Of Ants, Imaginariums and the Genius of Viktor Frankl
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom” (Viktor Frankl)
My son and I like watching a kids’ show called 64 Zoo Lane. Our favourite episode is a story about Herbert the Musical Warthog and how the strange phenomenon of music disrupted the otherwise boring life of the African Savanna the day that Herbert formed a band with Alan the Aardvark (brilliant) and Zed the Zebra. What always tickles me is Alan the Aardvark’s response when Herbert first attempts to recruit him: Alan is busy hoovering up ants and, when it is suggested that he should forget about the ants, he replies, “Forget about the ants? What else is there?”
Alan the Aardvark and his rather myopic vision of life offers a fascinating reflection on how I often live: Alan is a beast of little imagination living in a world that has just thrown up the possibility of something as beautiful, enriching and collaborative as music, but his horizons are utterly dominated by tiny insects (when you first meet Alan he is shuffling around snorting, “Oh look! An ant! Oh, look at that, another one!”) It makes me wonder if I often miss God’s presence because my social imaginarium is so dominated by tiny, yet weirdly absorbing stimuli (Twitter, email, phone, FaceBook etc) that demand immediate response.
Viktor Frankl describes the space that exists between stimulus and response as the space where my freedom to choose lies and the place where my freedom and growth exists, but I wonder if I have a tendency to shrink the space between stimulus and response, because to entertain a different way is profoundly threatening to my perception of reality. I hear in Frankl a tantalising alternative: an invitation to make the most of the space by whatever means are available to me. I discern the possibility of wedging that space open for as long as possible in order for choice, freedom and growth to flourish and, as a follower of Jesus, I reflect on the potential that the gifts of spiritual disciplines in the Christian tradition have for functioning as those wedges.
There is no pause button in life, is there? But what if I could “hold the doors” long enough to let another voice in? What if I was able to delay my response and allow another voice into that space? What I am suggesting is that spiritual disciplines such as silence, scripture reading and prayer- admittedly just three among dozens of spiritual disciplines- might function for me as a wedge in the stimulus-response process that allows the space to remain open long enough to discern myself afresh before God, hear the transformative voice of God addressing me and then, transformed by this encounter, to offer words of thanks and worship back to Him, and words of hope and new life to the world.
The truth is that I need to wedge the doors open frequently in order to discern God in my life, because in a world that numbs my imagination and does violence to time, the space to be attentive to another, alternative and life-giving voice, is less of a commodity and more of an urgent necessity for any who long to be a faithful witness to the kingdom of God.