Our bodies know things that we don't know that we know. Our brains, happily, forget lots of stuff, and what's lost is often gone forever. Who sat three seats in front of you in second grade? Your brain says: Not important. Buh-bye.
But somewhere - in your muscles, your nerves, your guts -- your body remembers what happened to you when you were eight. That's why you can, as the saying goes, "never forget to ride a bike." Even if it's been years since your last two-wheeled trip, you can just hop on, start pedaling, and you're good.
This phenomenon is called "somatic memory." My students don't always believe it when I tell them about it.
somai-- in their retinas and cochlea, in their bones and in their butts -- that they are to be rather passive observers of a bit of entertainment. Their brains may tell them that they are at church, and that this experience is one in which they are to participate fully, consciously, actively -- giving their worship to God. Their worship leaders may even say "come, now is the time to worship, now is the time to give your heart." But their bodies tell them -- based on years of Saturday night movies and hundreds of thousands of hours of television watching: "You're not going anywhere, or giving anything, dude. Kick back and enjoy; this is for you. By the way, wouldn't some popcorn be good right about now?"
Admittedly, this is a rather contentious example, and I can see why some of my students would be hesitant to accept the truth to which it points. So here's a more benign example:
Last week, I'm in a bathroom at a New Jersey church. I go to wash my hands, and notice, under the sink, a small trash can with a foot-pedal mechanism that opens the lid. I push the pedal a few times, just to… I don't know, test it or something. Then I turn my attention to the sink, and -- even though I see the knob right there in front of me, another part of my body overrides my rational function and I push the pedal on the trash can, expecting thereby to turn on the water. Why? Because my body remembers something about using a foot pedal to turn on the water in a washroom. It remembers that lesson from second grade. And third grade. And fourth grade. And so on.
All of which is not to say that we should never worship, or can never worship in the dark building on the cushy seats, etc. But it is to say that we ought to be careful about what somatic memories we invoke in worship. We can correct mistaken ideas. We can't correct our somatic memory -- we have to work with it, or against it. But to do that, we need to know about it. We need to know what we don't know that we know. You know?