Rewiring Our Brains
Prayer for July 19, 2017
20 Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the profane chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge; 21 by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith.
1 Timothy 6.20-21 (NRSV)
Have you ever wondered how we know something is true? Recently while writing my dissertation for my DMIN study on spiritual healing, I have been reading two books concurrently. I reference them often in my weekly devotions. They are Brain to Brain, (B2B) by neurologist John Arden, and Rewired: Exploring Religious Conversion, (R:ERC) by Paul Markham. My theory is that we have lost the ability see the truth that God’s intentions for us is always good and that God is always present in our healing process whether we acknowledge it or not. While organized religion tries to embrace the promises of Jesus to help us heal and to help us experience abundant joy, each denomination can muddy the waters with complicated doctrines that go far beyond Scripture. In a search for certainty—something Richard Rohr addresses well in his teachings—humanity becomes trapped in a search for knowing that is always subjected to context or instance. Hence the logic that saying someone is good because he or she does something that appears to be noble goes beyond one action. When St. Francis gave all he had to the poor—he was called a good man. However, if a father or mother gave away everything they had and neglected his or her family—neither of them would be labeled good. I mention the books I am reading because one is based on science alone (B2B) and the other is a theological dissertation on how the brain changes during a theological rebirthing process, (R:ERC). I am excited about how each of these books looks at the brain from different perspectives and yet they mirror each other when explaining how the brain is able to readjust.
Neurologist Arden speaks of Long Term Memories as both implicit (general) and explicit (context specific). He posits that human beings can rewire their brains if they understand that “every time you recall a memory, it is modified by the context, mood, and vantage point of the present moment.” (p. 68) R:ERC by Markham uses the term “emergence” to describe how “conscious thinking . . . cannot be accounted for solely on the underlying micro-level operations of the brain.” (p. 111) Our ability to choose allows us to assign meanings to actions that have both non-conscious and conscious recognition. Prejudice is a good example of how this system works on our brains. I argue that prayer allows us space to rewire our emotional memory and reassign automatic responses that are unhelpful and at times destructive.
I have kept a prayer journal for over 20 years now, and I try to reread daily what happened both in the previous year and ten years ago. It is fascinating to see where I have had experienced progress and backsliding. However, reviewing these instances prayerfully allows me to recall emotions without the intensity I felt at the time. Arden says not only will we default to the intensity we felt at the initial incident, we will also have an increased negative reaction to the negative experiences and the ability to assign anything positive to the situation will be overshadowed by our brains automatic response to flee, fight or freeze. He promotes conscious rewiring our brains intellectually. I believe the rewiring is enhanced if we include prayer. Let me explain.
Theologian Markham describes the process of rewiring our brain in a way that actually complements Arden’s explanation. He says if human beings are made in God’s image and God’s intention for us is always good—our brains are created to respond to more than just factual information. Theologically, I believe we are able to assign new meanings and discover truth through intellectual stimulation and spiritual prayer and/or conversion. This action requires us to be open to communicating with God. This process of rewiring our brain is not a one-time experience—it is a life long journey that involves every aspect of our being. When we pray, “on earth as in heaven” we are expressing a faith that believes we can reflect God’s goodness on earth. Will we accept that science and religion are not enemies? Can we embrace each other in spite of religious, non-religious, denominational, political, racial, economical, sexual and other differences? Can we see with an open heart, mind and soul what God meant when he told Abraham, (Gen 28.18) “by (his) offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves.” All of Abraham’s offspring, it seems to me, is inclusive both factually and metaphorically of everyone to the ends of the universe.
Prayer recap: Dear Lord, Your gift of being able to choose how we assign meaning to our context is truly unique among Your creation. Your universe is expanding. Your influence on us is revealing new truths we were unable to see in the past. The improvements You continually make in our brains has created in us the ability to adapt to a overabundance of information. Our bodies are amazing and yet we do not always appreciate how to maintain them so we can reflect Your goodness into the world. Help us to understand when we need space to assign meanings to events that complement our entire physical, mental and spiritual being. Amen.