For many, myself included, the rosary’s repetition is one of the most common and difficult things to work through. For some, of course, it’s neither a problem nor a hindrance. They love it and they seem predisposed to its meditative repetition. I am glad I am a part of the same Body of Christ as those people; I assume they make up for my lack of attention.
In this post I want to offer a very brief reflection on repetitive prayer.
In a certain way the Scriptures actually begin with a repetitive prayer. Genesis, and its story of the first days of creation, is full of repetition. Each day is marked by a verbal act of separation and the first three days are then mirrored and, in a sense, repeated in days four through six. Moreover, the words the author uses are themselves full of resonances with the number seven. In other words, both the form (the words) and the content (creation itself) are studies in repetition. More importantly, they are liturgical, and this in three ways. First, the act of creation is itself, in a way, a spoken prayer by God. He speaks creation into existence. Second, this spoken act is a cosmic Temple in which God “comes to rest” (or, in other words, comes home); God “comes to rest” within his Word. Third, the (human) words used to describe this act of creation are themselves artistically constructed in order to give it a sense of gravity and express the holy reality of the cosmos; more deeply, we might say that the human words participate within the spoken Word of God.
If we move forward a bit in the Scriptures there are many prayers the Israelites are commanded to repetitively pray. The most important of those is the Shema: “Here, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” Traditionally, Jewish people prayed twice every day, in the morning and at night. Without going into too much detail, we can say that the Shema is an exodus prayer. God gave this prayer to the Israelites after He took them from Pharaoh and while they were on their pilgrimage in the desert. In this way, the prayer was to remind them both of where they were coming from and where they were headed. They were taken from a land of many gods and being taken from the Land of the One God. On the way, they needed to constantly bring this to mind.
Lastly, the prayer that Jesus gave his disciples, what we call the Lord’s prayer, is also a prayer that is supposed to be repeated. This prayer, like the Shema, contains many resonances with the exodus, including the “daily bread”, such that we should understand it to be a pilgrim prayer.
With these three, very brief reflections, we might weave them together and say this—repetitive prayer is “from the beginning”. Creation itself is a repetitive prayer. Therefore, whenever we engage in prayer this way we are not simply mirroring creation but participating in creation. We become co-creators with God. Second, this co-creation with God is a movement from the first creation to the new creation. Or, said another way, repetitive prayer is an act of exodus, of pilgrimage, both reminding us of our deliverance and our redemption.
So, let’s deepen our understanding of repetition. It is not simply mimicking or parroting, or mirroring. It is not, in other words, merely repetitive. It is, rather, participation and enactment. We are building a place within ourselves of a Temple wherein God can come home “to rest”.