Repetitio Mater Memoriae, or Repetition
part of the Education Is for Life series
This motto is a bonus principle! When I started the Education is for Life series, I said I had five principles, trying to condense Christopher Perrin’s eight. But it turns out I couldn’t leave this one out. With each post, my thoughts kept returning to the idea of repetition. Actually, nearly every day I am confronted with the idea and the reality of repetition. The longer I parent small children, the more I’ve had to come to reconcile myself to repetition.
Repetitio mater memoriae
This Latin motto, which apparently is used within the Latin classroom primarily and not embraced as a defining motto like the others so far, means Repetition is the mother of memory. This is supposed to spur you on to chant those declensions, but I think the truth contained therein should spur us on in much more than language acquisition.
Listen to this article:
What adjectives do you associate with repetition?
Dullness, boredom, monotony.
training, practice, discipline, rehearsal.
Pianists practice the same scales and pieces over and over daily.
Actors rehearse their scenes over and over.
Athletes practice the same drills over and over daily.
Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
In the same way, we must repent, pray, read our Bible, speak kindly, admonish, rejoice, give thanks daily, even multiple times daily. We must do so to become good at them, to become fit and trained in holiness, to imitate and glorify our Father.
habit, ritual, routine, liturgy, tradition.
We want to commit certain things not only to our cognitive memory, but also to our muscle memory and to our reflexive memory. The way we do that is by repetition, not by fiat. Moreover, repetition is the way our children also internalize not only words and tunes, but also ideas and practices.
If we are pursuing a full-orbed education – a preparation for and a living out of a rich life – we cannot scorn repetition. Indeed, we might actually have to embrace it and even come to love it.
So repetition is a fact of life, and it turns out that’s a good thing. Even Paul writes, in Philippians 2:1:
To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.
Oh, that we mothers had this same attitude! “To repeat the same things to you is no trouble to me” – that is not what I’m thinking when I am telling my children the same reminder for the third time in as many minutes. Must I really say, “Did you brush your teeth?” every single morning? Won’t they ever catch on? It is so hard to have a good attitude about all the repetition in our lives.
Somehow we think it demeans us or what we are saying and doing, as if because we must repeat ourselves or our actions, we are not being respected. But it’s simply not true. To repeat ourselves is safety for our children. It is watering the garden to again and again say what must be said and do what must be done.
This reminds me of a section from G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy:
A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They often say, “Do it again”; and the grown up person does it again till he is nearly dead. For grown up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps, God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon.
Chesterton directly applies this to our bad attitude about “monotonous” duties:
The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life.
What if our perceptions about repetition are all wrong-headed? Does God repeat Himself? Yes. So, when we repeat ourselves could it be a way we are imitating and imaging God? We get all frustrated as if the necessity of repetition is part of our finiteness and fallenness, but when we look to Scripture, we see that even the infinite and perfect God delights in the repeating cycle of day and night, of seasons, of sustaining the world today in the same way as He has since the beginning. On top of that, we see that He repeats Himself to us, as well, giving us story after story, example after example, admonition after admonition, patient hearing after patient hearing.
Perhaps there is actually glory in repetition, if we had the eyes to see it.
Repetition at Home
One of the most frustrating areas of repetition in our lives is in disciplining our children. Giving a reprimand once should be enough, we think. Or, at least, I do. Do we really have to go over how we don’t play in toilets three times daily all week?! Must I really insist with each bathroom usage that “washing hands” isn’t “washing hands” if soap is not involved? All these little, trivial details begin to wear us down. But perhaps that is because we are operating under a false paradigm, one that does not see how much repetition (breath in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out) is woven into existence.
If we want things all done, over, ended, is that not in a way wishing for death? Life is not only full of, but built with and upon, repeated actions and processes.
Moreover, what if the discipline of our children is as much about our own discipline and upbringing as our children’s? Love is patient. To grow in love then, we need opportunities to practice (over and over and over) patience (“the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset”). Repeating ourselves continually is a form of delay, of trouble, and sometimes feels like suffering. So, if we use it as a chance to practice patience, if we repeat patient responses with enough frequency, we will grow in that virtue over time.
Repetition in Schedule
What is habit formation but repeating behaviors we want to cultivate? Virtue is cultivated not in any one-time act, but in making the right choice so often that it becomes a matter of automaticity rather than deliberate, pain-staking self-denial.
A habit is an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary. And practice makes perfect. Repeating the same thing over and over means you’re working toward becoming good at this thing, even if it’s as simple as making your bed when you get up or starting chores after breakfast. It also means you don’t expect yourself to get it right the first time or every time. Deliberate practice is work, but it bestows excellence after consistent, persistent application.
Habit rules ninety-nine percent of everything we do. – Charlotte Mason
Repetition as a Mother
Accepting the need for repeating ourselves opens us up to the other error of becoming the woman likened to a continual dripping in Proverbs. What is the difference between reminding and nagging?
I believe it’s attitude. Look at the definitions:
nag: annoy or irritate (a person) with persistent fault-finding or continuous urging; be persistently painful, troublesome, or worrying.
remind: call to mind; bring something, esp. a commitment or necessary course of action, to the attention of (someone).
If we are reminding and repeating with or because of frustration, worry, or stress, then no good will come of it. But if we undertake it in humility, love, and respect, then it will a balm and blessing to our family. The words might even themselves be the same, but the state of the heart is the power behind the words, invoking them either for good or ill.
Who can change a sinner’s heart? The Holy Spirit alone.
In other words, repetition is another call to live a life of repentance.