Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Spiritual Parkinsonism

Parkinson's disease is a degenerative nerve disorder.  Perhaps you join me in having friends or relatives afflicted with this illness.  Likely you know of some of the notable celebrates who suffer from Parkinsonism, such as Billy Graham, Muhammad Ali, and Michael J. Fox.

A common symptom of Parkinson's disease is what one might call a distortion of scale, where the person talks either too fast or too slow, or speaks too loudly or too softly, or exaggerates normal movements, and so on.  Sometimes the sufferer might write in a miniature but perfect font requiring a magnifying glass to read; other times he might scribe huge letters, again in perfect form.  Sometimes the person might be walking down an aisle at a normal pace, when suddenly his pace quickens and his steps shorten until he freezes in his tracks.

The outside observer of all these deviations from normal patterns might conclude the disease has affected the ability of the person's brain to coordinate with his muscles, or has caused progressive nerve damage to the muscles themselves.  Apparently this is not the case.  In his book, Awakenings, Dr. Sacks pinpoints the cause to the disease distorting the sufferer's perception of space and time.  For example, the above mentioned person who walks faster, faster, faster in ever shortening steps, and then freezes, does so because from his perspective he has run out of space to walk in.  He actually maintained the same normal pace and stride throughout the exercise; but from our vantage point, where space remained constant, he appeared to walk faster and then grow paralyzed, as if his muscles spasmed and then cramped up.  In his reality, though, he was doing what any of us would do trying to maintain a steady pace in an a constantly decreasing space.

The sufferer of Parkinsonism hasn't lost his understanding of what the sundry metrics of space and time mean, either quantitatively or qualitatively.  He fully comprehends as well as any of us what constitutes an inch or a minute.  He doesn't lose perspective of space and time because of wrong notions of the metrics.  Instead, the disease distorts the space he desperately tries to apply those metrics.

Another issue with Parkinsonism is initiation.  Frequently patients will remain mute or stationary unless they receive some stimulus from the outside.  If we speak to them, they will answer back.  If we play music, they will begin to sing, and so on.  It's not that the disease has affected them motorically or somehow confused their thinking, rather it inhibits initiation.  They may want to initiate, but can't.

Here's where the plot thickens in a fascinating way.  We can override the sufferer's spacial distortions by providing him with a template by which to follow.  For example, we draw equally spaced lines on the floor.  The person, if he attends, can follow the lines and walk across the floor in a regulated pace; but his movement will appear mechanical.  Now, here's the beautiful thing.  If one then takes the person's arm and walks with him, he will maintain regulation but also acquire the form, fluidity and grace of the human motion.  Similarly, one can speak to the otherwise mute person, and as I said, he will, if he chooses, answer back.  If he speaks too loudly or too softly, one can say so, and he can modulate accordingly.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

All of us, because we have rebelled against our God, have afflicted ourselves with a spiritual Parkinsonism.  We are no longer able to initiate towards God, and we operate from a distorted perception of real space and time.  But because of His great love for us, God first calls us, by His Son,  Jesus the Christ, to leave our darkness; and if we choose, we answer back.  And He lays out before us a metric (e.g., think ten commandments, here) by which to reorder us from our distorted world.  But this is not sufficient to heal us; our actions remain mechanical and cold.  So He reaches out His hand--the very hand of Jesus--gently takes us by the arm and, if we let Him, walks beside us.  A wondrous thing happens.  In time, we find ourselves not only moving in sync with His holiness, but flowing with the warm form and gracefulness of the Divine motion of His Love.