A friend told me about his recent bout with vertigo, and I came away from the conversation amazed.
We’ve all heard, I suppose, how the workings of the inner ear regulate our sense of balance. But until this conversation with my friend, I didn’t understand quite how intricate the system is. How my ability to walk upright depends, ultimately, on a set of crystals…and whether they’re functioning as intended inside my ear canals.
Heck, until today I was only dimly aware that I had ear canals…much less what’s supposed to be going on in there. Here’s a primer on vertigo, in case it’s of interest:
[Vertigo] occurs when some of the calcium carbonate crystals (otoconia) that are normally embedded in gel in the utricle become dislodged and migrate into one or more of the 3 fluid-filled semicircular canals, where they are not supposed to be. When enough of these particles accumulate…they interfere with the normal fluid movement that these canals use to sense head motion…
Fluid in the semi-circular canals does not normally react to gravity. However, the crystals do move with gravity, thereby moving the fluid when it normally would be still. When the fluid moves, nerve endings in the canal are excited and send a message to the brain that the head is moving, even though it isn’t. This false information does not match with what the other ear is sensing, with what the eyes are seeing, or with what the muscles and joints are doing, and this mismatched information is perceived by the brain as a spinning sensation, or vertigo…
Oddly enough, we were discussing vertigo in connection with this Sunday’s scripture readings – in particular, this passage from the Gospel according to Mark:
Jesus said to the crowds: “This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
I love that line: “…he knows not how.” I often find myself marveling at the process of life…especially the little things we tend to take for granted. Seed germination, for instance: Toss a seed onto fertile soil, water it a bit, and before you know it – the stony gray-brown organic chiplet is no longer dead, but alive. Green, and growing – stretching its tender shoots toward the sun.
In some cases, growth spurts come at a near-frightening pace. For instance: I thought last season’s transplanting had done-in one of our perennials – a blazing star…but it turns out, the plant was just biding its time this spring. Once the fronds poked through, they grew with a vengeance. And I realized how very little I had contributed to its remarkable vigor. It’s now over two-and-a-half fee tall…and growing. But the gardener “…knows not how.”
Jesus, it seems, wants us to take note of the wonder at work in the natural world. We don’t have to understand everything…in order to have our hearts moved by the seemingly insignificant:
“It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”
Indeed: Big things are at work as this Kingdom of God unfolds all around us. And we can rejoice, it seems to me, that God has provided truly some remarkable instruments – our ears – with which to hear this Good News.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.