Luke 11:29-32, Wednesday of the 1st week of Lent
There’s a little mantra that neuroscientists believe: “Cells that fire together wire together.” Whenever our body does something, there is a particular network of that fire together, enabling the body to precisely do what it does. You read a book, that’s a particular network of neurons firing together. You ride a bike, same thing. Pray, your “prayer” neurons help you. Now, when we take up something new for our body to do, and we do it repeatedly and diligently, we’re actually activating new neurons that fire together. And the longer they fire together, the better they wire together. Wire together means they get “myelinated”. A myelin sheath starts to form a coat around the neurons; think of the rubber insulation wrapping electric wires. Myelination facilitates quicker movement of impulses along the network. So, when cells that fire together finally get wired together, then a new habit is born! That’s why we never “forget” how to swim or ride a bike or read. That’s because the cells have wired together after many times of firing together. On the other hand, to get rid of an old habit, we can’t just “stop” from doing it. Instead, we develop a new habit and let its neurons fire often enough that they myelinate better than the old habit we want to “unlearn.” Interesting, isn’t it?
The Queen of Sheba went to see if Solomon was really the wisest king people said he was. She wasn’t disappointed. He was the wisest king she’d ever met. Now, in today’s Gospel, Luke says through Jesus: “Oh, Israel. If the Queen of Sheba were to judge you now, she would probably say: ‘You blind Jews. The Messiah is already with you, yet you still ask for a sign of him. You adore King Solomon for his wisdom and glory, as you should, for he was a wise king. But someone here is greater than Solomon. What is wrong with you? Wake up!” Same reference to Jonah. The whole pagan Nineveh repented because of him, great prophet for the Jews. But here was a prophet greater than Jonah. Yet, Israel remained unrepentant. In other words, the Jews were “myelinated” in their old habit—which was the law, the law, the letter of the law; ritual purity; self-righteousness; legalism; formalism; externalism. “Show us signs that you are the Messiah; signs that we will judge according to our law.” They were addicted to themselves. They had a bad habit and it was all about them.
They say if you do something repeatedly for 66 days—that’s around two months—then you form a habit. Now don’t you think the season of Lent is a perfect time for to form a habit then? 40 days to fire up new neurons. Less than two months, I know, but it’s a pretty good start—to make it a habit to say thank you more, to think ‘thank-you’ more; to say and think “I’m sorry” more; to hold our tongues when they itch to character- assassinate; to shave 15 minutes off of Facebook and reinvest it into 15 minutes of prayer in this chapel regardless of whether something happens or not. Pro-active Lenten repentance, we could call it. Or, if you want to be more neuroscientific about it, “Coaxing our cells to fire together, so that they wire together.” Well, fire together with God this Lent, so that hopefully, we and God get wired together.
*image from the Internet