(The Neuroscience of Faith and Sanctification Series)
I want to take some time to talking about how we allow Jesus to be formed within us. I’ve mentioned in previous blogs how relationships form a neural picture of the other person in our brains. Relationship, when it is truly such, occurs on a whole body level. Again, the reason we use feeling words so often when it comes to relationships ( I feel close, you feel distant, I was excited to see you, I was sad to see you go, you lifted my spirits, etc…), is because relationship always involves the entire body- Head, heart, and gut. So Christ is literally etched into our brains as we relate to him. The deeper the relationship the more he changes us- just as early parent interactions form implicit memories that guide our actions and feelings today.
The problem is that, relatively speaking, God is a newer relationship than our parents and we are often aware of this relationship long after our most formative years. So, we may have some work ahead of us, teaching our heart, gut, head and mind to relate to Jesus is a way different from our parents and past relationships.
In upcoming blogs I will talk in more detail about ways that we achieve whole body transformation, looking at each area that I have addressed in previous blogs:
- Mind- (in upcoming blogs)
This week I want to spend some time on the heart or emotions. This is one of the most powerful neural pathways in terms of shaping the “picture” of another person in our brain. So when I talk about Christ forming in our brain, heart is a good place to start. One way that we engage and transform our hearts is through Emotional Meditation. I have alluded to and wrote about this earlier. My blog called God’s Delight was exactly that, it was an effort to engage not just the thoughts but the feelings. When we meditate it must be an emotional meditation in order for it to really be transformative. Thinking about God’s love is really not enough, we must be able to feel it and recall feeling it. No relationship is strong without a felt sense of it and the other person.
I suggest you go back to that blog and use it as a framework for engaging your heart. Many of the early Christian mystics were exceptional in this area. They engaged their imaginations. Rather than reading scripture to engage your logic, you might want to engage your emotions. Try to imagine a scene in the gospels, better yet, imagine being one of the characters and use all of your senses. Imagine what the scents were, the sounds, etc… Experience a moment with Jesus engaging all of your senses.
There are numerous studies demonstrating the changes that occur when we engage more of our brains, particularly our senses. Again a law in neuroscience is that “neurons that fire together, wire together.” As you imagine Jesus and encounters with him, these feelings and emotions become hardwired into your picture of Jesus and form “memories” of your relationship that become the basis for your felt sense of the relationship.
You might want to imagine yourself as Mary pouring perfume over Jesus’ feet, being on the boat as Jesus calms the storm, Jesus standing up for you and comforting you as you are about to be stoned. The important part is to take your time, immerse yourself in the experience and image what it would have felt like emotionally. Remember, these are universal experiences. The stoning would have evoked anxiety over consequences for sin, shame, feeling alone and threatened, etc… These are emotions that we can identify with. If you struggle with this activity it may mean that you have difficulty connecting with your body, with your emotions and/or being still. If that is the case I recommend that you start with the Delight exercise in the previous blog and hang on, I’ll talk about some of these difficulties later.