Friday, February 26, 2010

A Bumpy Road…

DISCLAIMER: The idea for this letter did not originate in my brain. Rather, I’m stealing it from Donna J., who said something awesome after service Sunday, which I needed to think about more deeply. This is my attempt at that. Ask Donna if I utterly misunderstood or not…

Disclaimer done. Let’s talk about skiing! You may know that some of my favorite High School memories are from sophomore year, when I joined the freestyle ski team at my favorite ski mountain. I competed in mogul racing, and it was an amazing year. I trained twice weekly with a coach who’d raced in the World Cup and on the Professional Tour. Some teammates tried out for US Ski Team spots, and I even raced against kids from other teams who skied for the US in the Olympics. I always lost badly to these folk, but it was a blast regardless!

Alas, some folk I’ve told about this just can’t understand my deep love for the sport. Indeed, some don’t even know what it is. Let me try to explain. Imagine a ski hill. Make it wide, and quite steep, and cover the hill with lots of BIG bumps. Imagine yourself skiing around those bumps at high speeds, making turns so narrow your knees nearly smack your chin. Then throw two large jumps into the mix, one near the top, the other near the bottom. That is mogul racing; glorious, amen?!

After watching the Olympics, I heard some say, “How do they do that? Those bumps come at them soooo fast!” That’s an understandable question; the speed is mindboggling. But what to the average viewer looks like someone shouldn’t be able to react that fast, to the Olympian seems, well, normal. Of course, these competitors have skills and athletic ability you and I can’t dream about. But it’s also true that, like any Olympic Sport, the best mogul racers have done this for years and years.

I think the physiological term is ‘muscle memory.’ Their legs are so accustomed to turning these exact ways that they don’t need to stop at each mogul, and decide the best way to turn. They look five, ten turns down the hill and anticipate that movement, while trusting their feet to react instinctively to the bump directly in front. These competitors move so fast because thousands of training hours shape such good muscle memory, their minds are free to contemplate other challenges. Like the final back flip!

Last Sunday, Donna said, “Shane, I think that’s how faith can work.” And you know what? I think she’s absolutely right! Indeed, we attend church weekly not just because Fellowship Hour coffee is free. But through song, sermon, fellowship and prayer, we’re training ourselves to perceive God all around us, and especially in our neighbors. That’s crucial because sometimes in daily living, we don’t have time to stop and ponder, “What would Jesus do?” We’re confronted with tricky situations and simply must respond, hoping to please God in the process. And as Donna said, that like good mogul skiers, if we’ve made knowing God and learning God’s story better a constant priority, our natural reactions will look much more…holy.

I heard a radio interview recently about experiments brain scientists are doing with ‘expert meditators’, i.e. people who’ve logged tens of thousands of hours in prayer and contemplation. One of their great findings is the ability of meditation and prayer to change your brain, specifically in ways that lead to increased capacity for compassion and mindfulness. What’s more is that the mind’s plasticity (ability to change) doesn’t end at age 7, or 27. The brain keeps trying to learn more, develop greater ‘brain skills’ like compassion, throughout life. And you don’t have to be a monk, to do this, nor do we all need to become ‘experts.’ If you do the math, weekly Worship and daily prayer really adds up. We can all develop greater instincts of compassion and mindfulness, if we regularly submit our thoughts and feelings to God’s attention. And like all mogul skiers know- it may sometimes be a bumpy ride, but WOW, is it worth it!

Grace and Peace,


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