I love reading the ‘Hairy Maclary’ series of books to my grandchildren. The illustrations of dogs and cats in these books are beautifully detailed, but it is the language which captivates. Written in rhyme, the stories use repetition, alliteration and metre to carry their animal adventures to toddlers who are still unable to talk. The rich vocabulary (including words like ‘bumptious’, ‘skedadlle’, ‘hullaballo’, ‘frolicking’) enchants from an early age. The books are wonderfully crafted and appeal to children of different ages; their language means an adult can read them without falling asleep too, which is always a bonus!
Repetition in children’s boooks is clearly a valuable teaching tool. Repetition embeds language in us until understanding emerges. It provides an anchor in a story, a familiar point which helps the child to learn. Repetition is a valuable literary device – because so often, we fail to grasp things that are mentioned only once!
Psalm 80, a psalm written during the dark times of invasion and exile, uses repetition. The refrain ‘Restore us… make Your face shine on us, that we may be saved’ occurs three times (Ps 80:3, 7, 19) It’s not wrong to pray the same thing more than once! Repetition reminds us of what’s important in the story (God’s favour and help being important things to remember!)
But the refrain is not mere repetition. The way the psalmist addresses God changes. In verse 3, he prays to ‘God’; in verse 7, to ‘God Almighty’; in verse 19 to ‘Lord God Almighty.’ His request may be the same, but his understanding of who God is has been enlarged.
This is what happens as we pray. Our woes may stay the same. Our pleas for help may stay the same. But our understanding of who God is, the revelation of God’s nature and power – these change as we pray. Gradually, God fills more of our vision and we become more attuned to Him. The important thing is to keep on praying!