According to scientists the hayfever season is arriving earlier and earlier in the wake of global warming. This is not good news for Britain's 12 million hayfever sufferers. Anyone who suffers from it has my sympathies.
Recently I heard of a different kind of sneezing problem that affects about 25% of people. Their sneezing is set off when they look at bright light. A scientist with a sense of humour called it Autosomal dominant Compelling Helio-Ophthalmic Outburst syndrome (ACHOO for short!). It’s also known as the photic sneeze reflex. Why does it happen? It’s thought that some people have an association between the nerve that causes sneezing and the optic nerve that transmits visual impulses to the brain. Overstimulation of the optic nerve triggers the ‘sneezing’ nerve, and this causes the photic sneeze reflex – ACHOO!
This is just one of many kinds of reflex actions of which the body is capable. Another is the ‘knee jerk’ reaction, which happens when we’re knocked just below the knee cap and a nerve signal travels to the spine and triggers the muscle response. Reflex actions like this don’t involve the brain – they are involuntary and instant.
Sometimes our responses to people, situations or ideas are like reflex actions. They are instant and unthinking. I listed a few words or ideas that might elicit such a response. How about these? Health & Safety, worship bands, DHQ, Post Modernism, taxes, political correctness, marmite, mission statements, Annual Appeal.... Now you don’t see all those in the same sentence every day!
Our unthinking responses are often prompted by previous experiences, prejudices or personality clashes. Sometimes they are a defensive reaction to criticism. In most cases the response is instant. How easy it is to put our mouth into motion before our brain has got into gear, or to shoot off an email in hasty response to something that has got under our collar. Now I’m not saying that such responses are always wrong or that we shouldn’t get emotional about things. Simply that it pays to think things over – to reflect before we react.
Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple is sometimes thought to be an emotional ‘gut reaction’ to the corruption he saw going on in there. Mark, though, records that when Jesus went to the temple ‘he looked around at everything’, then went off to Bethany and came back the next morning to turn over the tables of the money changers and drive out the dealers. His initial response may well have been an angry one, but then he literally slept on it. He took time to reflect before acting – it was a self-controlled, albeit a dramatic, response. Paul mentions ‘self-control’ when he speaks of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It might not seem like one of the most attractive qualities compared with love, joy, peace, etc, but it is just as important. Spirit-prompted self-control can prevent damaging responses. A controlled, thoughtful, balanced reaction is what’s most needed. It’s certainly not to be sneezed at!
Lieut-Colonel Jonathan Roberts
Assistant to the Secretary for Scotland