Stimulus–response. An amoeba does it. A Venus fly trap does it. A snake does it. We do it.
A tap on the knee and our leg kicks out, all by itself! Automatically, without consulting the rest of us. Even our brain is surprised. Reflexes are part of our programming designed to protect, support and allow us to move even without our permission. A sign we’re alive! Some things are just too important for a committee decision.
This morning I read, “True worship is a response to God’s glory, the evidence of God’s presence and power displayed in our lives…” (Christy Bailey, Devozine magazine)
What if worship was more than a worship service? More than a good sermon? More than a praise song? More than a few bucks in the offering plate? What if worship was stimulus-response, any time, anywhere? What if, when God got my attention I let my reflexes do the responding. What if…
- When God taps me, I respond.
- When God touches my heart, I cry.
- When God tickles me, I giggle.
- When God calls me, I turn.
- When God whistles, I look up.
- When God calls me to dinner, I come to the table.
- When God shows me a miracle, I stand still.
- When God thinks in me, I write.
- When God writes to me, I correspond.
- When God speaks, I listen.
- When God whispers, I lean in.
- When God invites, I accept.
- When God hugs, I sigh.
- When God kisses, I smile.
- When God takes my hand, I squeeze.
- When God opens a door, I walk through.
- When God says, I do.
- When God does, I join in.
- When God sends a sunrise, I applaud.
- When I see God, I point him out.
If God and I have a reflex relationship, there’s no sense beating myself up about a missed opportunity, any more than I’d chastise my leg for not kicking when the doctor tapped my knee with the hammer. And it’d be pretty silly to kick later hoping to get full credit. I would have to be extra careful about responding from fear or anxiety, though. You know what a haunted house can do to your reflexes.
Imagine, something as simple as ‘stimulus-response’ wired in so God and I can connect 24-7.
At 9:35 am God said, “Good morning” in the dazzling rays through my window.
I said, “Good morning, sunshine.” And there was worship on a Wednesday in my kitchen.
This weekend I will be working with Samantha,* a 15 year old, one year out from her ACL repair. ACL, for those who are not sports enthusiasts such as myself, is short for anterior cruciate ligament; it’s a criss-crossed ligament in the knee. It’s become quite prominent in the news because so many young athletes are tearing them. But the reason we hear so much is because it’s a show-stopping injury. It not only takes you out of the game. It takes you out of your sport for 9 months of more. For an athlete, that means it takes you out of life.
So Samantha was excited to get back into play. Except, she told her dad, the knee just doesn’t respond like it used to. And that’s why they called me.
I know exactly what Samantha is talking about. Or, nearly exactly as I had a take-some-time-off-from-life injury 2 years ago. Tendon torn in two. Surgically repaired. Braced. And slowly, slowly, slowly rehabbed.
It’s funny how the body responds to an injury like this. It seems to go into “protection mode.” It slows down and takes it easy. It does everything carefully. It ‘thinks’ about everything before it tries anything. I remember standing at the top of our staircase looking down at the 16 or so steps I would need to navigate on crutches and thinking, Wow, here I am in Innsbruck atop the Giant Slalom course. It was like I was poised at the gate waiting to break the electric eye and start the clock counting down my championship run.
Only problem…starting. I had to lean out over the chasm, place my rubber crutch ends on the first step and swing myself down onto the first step. Yes, I would be suspended in mid air for a second. Does that sound wise for someone who has just had serious surgery?
That’s what my body thought. Be afraid. Be really afraid.
Somehow, over time I overcame that fear, and bit by bit I negotiated the stairs. But as long as I was on crutches, it still looked like the Downhill course. And I think that was my body’s doing. It was protecting itself. Sowing a bit of holy fear and caution in me. And that’s quite adaptive.
But, after 9 months or so, it becomes habitual. The moving slowly and the cautiousness become patterned into my movement. Not to mention the ease-factor. Hey, why not hit that auto-open button on the door. It’s so much easier than to risk rousing those slumbering abdominal and shoulder muscles.
And this is where return to regular movement and, for Samantha, competitive play, get hung up. Oh, we may train back the strength and the range of motion and the endurance, but that quickness and reflexive responsiveness just aren’t there. Unless we call on them.
Training slowly and surely makes us strong and reliable, but it doesn’t make us quick. Quickness comes when we train it. Drills which require using lightness of foot and nimbleness of heart and spirit are required. At first, we must think about them, plan them, and repeat them again and again. But, over time, as we apply ourselves, they become automatic. We notice they are reflexive again. We know them when we feel them. Or, ironically, it’s when they don’t get our attention that we know we are healed. And whole. And fully ready for action.
I wonder how ready I am for God’s action. Are my reflexes tuned? If He called on me to respond quickly and precisely, would I do it without thinking? Or perhaps the more difficult question: when I respond reflexively, is it a God-reflex? Is it what God would have me say or do in that moment? Without thinking?
Call me odd, or embarrassing or even irreverent, but don’t call me to stop. I was tapping my foot to the beat of the music in church on Sunday. And not clandestinely in my pew. I was kneeling at the communion rail. But the praise band was wailing away right in front of me? What’s a body to do but respond with what comes naturally?
Probably no one else noticed. But I take it as a good sign. That the beat of praise moves me. I think I must just have been made that way.
*Samantha is not her real name.