A few weeks ago I sat on the wide, soft sands of Manhattan Beach, Los Angeles, with 2-year-old Matthew. The sun was so hot that I pulled a huge striped towel over my head like a tent. A few moments later, tiny fingers drew aside the flap of my tent, and a little voice said, "Can I come into your house?"
Matthew loved it under the towel. In the deep shade it almost felt like bedtime, and he asked for a story. So I told him about a hungry bunny scampering over the sand looking for carrots, and how Mr. Fluff found one pushing up out of the sand right in the middle of my house.
"Again," said Matthew. So the bunny scampered through the story again and found another tasty morsel. "Again," said Matthew. Then, wising up after a pause, "Again, please."
Matthew's mother, who had not been with us on the beach, e-mailed me a week later to say, "What's this about a house and a rabbit on the beach? Matthew keeps talking about that story."
Repetition has always been an essential part of child rearing, early lessons in school, and church liturgy. Just think of the Bible's book of Psalms, and how many times people are urged to remember what God has done for them. How often people are encouraged to praise the Lord, thank Him for His goodness to them, and express their feelings in joyful singing. And how often they are reminded that God's mercy endures forever. In Psalm 136, that phrase is repeated in all 26 verses.
One of my favorite hymns speaks poignantly of Jesus' love for all humankind and of the role of reiteration:
I love to tell the story,
'Tis pleasant to repeat
What seems, each time I tell it,
More wonderfully sweet.
The hymn goes on to make the point that even those who know the story well will be "hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest." They know good news when they hear it, and cannot too often receive "The message of salvation/ From God's own holy word ("Christian Science Hymnal," No. 414).
I think many would agree that the "old, old story" is worth hearing over and over again. Preserving stories by repetition was an intrinsic part of the oral tradition of the Hebrew people, and it remains a great way to teach children biblical principles that will sustain them throughout their lives. It's an effective way of reminding oneself what is really true about God and one's relationship with Him. And it's a useful way to strengthen others who are just starting out on their spiritual journey.
Jesus never hesitated to use repetition in teaching people about God's saving, healing, regenerating power, although he sometimes varied his metaphors. For example, when he explained the glories of the kingdom of heaven and its place in people's lives, his imagery included different kinds of seed, leaven rising, buried treasure, "goodly" pearls, and a net cast into the sea. He often repackaged his message in parables that were easier for ordinary folk to understand.
Many of us already have respect for the repetition that speeds progress in learning to play a musical instrument, learning mathematical formulas, or finessing that soaring, curving center kick toward the goalposts in a soccer match. We also know that a close companion seldom tires of hearing "I love you," taking delivery of flowers at the front door, or coming home to another home-cooked meal.
Take things up a notch or two, and you discover that wise repetition of the eternal truths explained and lived by Jesus can reinforce ground rules for loving others so that these principles become second nature. Through a warm and comfortable familiarity, they strengthen your confidence in God's salvation.
You might discover that the "old, old story" isn't really old at all. It can become the "new, new song" in your life, which never loses its impetus, freshness, and healing power.
The life of Christ Jesus,
his words and his deeds, demonstrate Love.
Mary Baker Eddy
(founder of the Monitor)