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A shoe shine minister lightens a weighty week

I met Moses on Wednesday. He was shining shoes in the JW Marriott. Actually, I heard him before I saw him and it was several days before I introduced myself.

“The 10 commandments, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!” he almost sang. “Love your neighbor.” This was conversation that came free of charge when you got your shoes shined. I was amused to watch the faces of the recipients. Some smiled. Some agreed and encouraged him. Some turned their heads the other way, pretending they couldn’t hear. But you couldn’t help but hear him. And I marveled. What an amazing testimony. A ministry of shoe-shining.

Moses shines shoes at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis

Moses shines shoes at the JW Marriott in Indianapolis

On Friday I finally caught Moses without a customer so I stopped and asked him how long he’d been in the ministry. Ten years, he told me. I asked if I could snap a photo and he obliged, although he insisted it was quick because guys were waiting downstairs for him. He was headed to his evening job, hard rock, gospel style. In the band he was “King Moses.”

I’m always amazed by people who integrate their faith and their work (not just their works). Who somehow translate the Good News message into the language of their vocations. Moses’ way was pretty forthright.

But this morning I walked to sessions with a physiotherapist from Canada.  The scientific conference we have been attending is coming to a close. So much research has been presented. So much debating of validity and statistical significance and repeatability and…

“It’s a shame,” she said, “when you know the good you can do but delay and wait for more confirmation.” She liked people who took what was good – and well-designed exercise is always good – and put it into practice to help people.

She laughed when she recalled some students who came to her with “wondrous” faces. They had just helped an amputee walk for the first time. They said, “I suppose this gets old after you’ve done it more times.”

“It never gets old,” she told me. Each time you help someone walk for the first time, it’s wondrous. Just as amazing as the first time.

I imagine that was the look on the faces of the onlookers when Jesus healed the paralytic and told him, “Take up your mat and walk.” And he did just that. They must have had wondrous faces. And for Jesus and the disciples, it never got old.

What a privilege it is to be a translator of science into the practice of life. To take all these studies and stats and protocols and debates and cull out what will be just the thing that might work for the athletes who come my way. There won’t be a lot of fanfare, but when it works, it is wondrous. Every time.

Leave the research to the researchers and let them get it just exactly right. The rules are important and we want to avoid jumping to our own conclusions, but serving in the field is where the rubber meets the road. I figure I’m a translator of sorts.

Like King Moses said, “the 10 commandments … then love you neighbor.” Translating one into the other is a life’s work.

The Sensation of Prayer

I’ve learned a new word: synesthesia. By definition, it’s a “union of the senses.” Wikipedia calls it “a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.” Synesthetes have a common brain pathway for more than one sensation. They see sounds, hear a movement or colorize numbers. They may attach spacial perception to time frames. By some estimates, one in 23 people may experience this kind of sensation. It’s just the way they/we’re wired.

I used to be fascinated by studies of the regions of the brain – in the old days we could only look from the outside – where they’d stick an electrode into a portion of the brain and the patient would experience sensation from that region. They would hear sounds if the auditory area was stimulation. They would remember things if a memory region was tapped. It’s how we “mapped” the brain.

Now we can look inside the brain and actually see the pathways and what activates them. What lights up when you move, think, pray. And what doesn’t. It takes out the guesswork. Until you’ve got pathways that run together and get things mixed up. The synesthetes.

Full confession: I see things when I pray. I see a complete picture, but there’s no sound. I don’t think there is color – though now I’ll have to pay more attention. I see the critically injured young woman standing before the throne. I see the prideful woman, trying to scale the castle wall.

On occasion I feel things when I pray. Emotions, yes, but also tactile sensations. warmth. softness. compression. falling.

I used to think I was weird, but maybe it’s just that my visual and kinesthetic tracks are running together with my prayer tracks. This may be my native anatomy. When I pray for another, I see and feel their “circumstance” in the presence of the one who attends to my prayers.

This also animates my own prayers. I see myself in the midst of these shenanigans. Yesterday, faced with an endless row of teeter totters all lined up across my path one after another, I was leaping from one to the next, attempting to land exactly in the center to keep from being thrown off balance.

The day before I hovered before an infinite number of chess games, God playing a human on each board. I wondered whether there could be a split second in any game that His attention might waver allowing one human to falter or fall out of God’s will. I guess true omnipresence prevents this, but still, one wonders.

True. All of this sounds like dreaming. All of it appears as imagining. But could it be that God has designed my sensory pathways to accommodate prayer?

It’s probably just a matter of time until we invent a device to track prayers in the brain. I’ll be interested to know their origin and their destination. Do they begin with me and end with God? Do they begin with God and end with me? Or is there a rapid relay race being run back and forth along the track?

For now I am content to see them and feel them. It’s the sensation of prayer for me. Seeing hurt, hurts me. I have to turn away. Imagine how our hurting one another must hurt the One to whom we pray.

Death gives life, science says so

I have added a new “category” to the blog called cool science. I am, after all, a scientist and very often there is a bit of science in the natural order of things that speaks of God to me. Technically, this is not kinesthetic – unless I pick it up and turn it over in my mind, in which case anything goes I suppose.

But this week I am at a sports medicine conference and everyone is speaking science. Very quickly and much of the time somewhat illegibly. Whoa. Can you say that about speaking? Slow your talking down; I can’t read your handwriting!!

Anyway, today’s cool science doesn’t come directly from the conference (That will go on my Fit2Finish business blog.) but instead from research done at UVA School of Medicine and published in the magazine Nature. In studies of muscle cells, they have found that dying cells (which have long been considered debris that must be removed from the body to avoid causing tissue inflammation) are necessary in the process of muscle cell formation. “A small number of myoblasts – precursor cells that develop into muscle tissue – must die to allow muscle formation.”

I am prone to think of death as a terrible thing. Such a waste. Such a mistake. So ill-conceived. Why in the world must we die? And then on the tiniest of scales, the most intricate of platforms, in the cells themselves, we literally can see that death is necessary for new life.

A cell must die so that others can live.

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. ~ John 12:24

So Scientific. So Scriptural. Almost like we were made this way.

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