Resurrecting Our Brain-Buried Spirit

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As Jesus prepared his disciples to spread the spirit of the gospel in a physical world, he had to teach them to think differently. Scientists might characterize this as using a different part of the brain to master a goal. Connecting with one’s own spiritual nature is a worthy goal.

Many faiths do this through prayer. This can take many forms, from the simplicity of wordless contemplation to embracing rosary beads and reciting prayers resurrected from our brain’s verbal hemisphere. Even scientists recognize the spiritual power embedded in the flesh of our brain.

In a recent article, Dr. Amanda Alexander, a theology professor in San Bernardino, Calif., cited the work of Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg, who invited subjects to participate in a study researching our mental connection to the tactile fingering of rosary beads. After a couple months, even inexperienced meditators showed significant changes in their brain function. This research found that the “brain circuit” governing empathy, compassion, emotional balance and the suppression of fear and anger was strengthened. Newberg noted that the malfunction of this particular circuit “contributes to the formation of depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors and schizophrenia.” (Newberg, “How God Changes your Brain,” 29).

Could science be saying that scripture offers a powerful way for humans to bridge gaps to God? As the readings from this Sunday’s Mass show, ancient authors discovered that neural network between the earthly and the heavenly many centuries ago. For example, the first reading (Is 66:10-14c) proves Isaiah knew which verbal buttons to push so the door to God’s spiritual home inside humanity would open. For many in this prophet’s original audience, the earthly entry point to God’s Kingdom was Jerusalem:

Thus says the LORD: Lo, I will spread prosperity over Jerusalem like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing torrent. As nurslings, you shall be carried in her arms, and fondled in her lap; as a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; in Jerusalem you shall find your comfort.

But in Sunday’s second reading (Gal 6:14-18), Paul cuts the umbilical cord connecting flesh and spirit so we may not turn the world’s sensational niceties into a mental crutch:

The world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation.

The power of Jesus, as true God and true man, lies in helping us reconcile humanity’s spiritual and physical realms. He connects us with our Creator in the same way that made Paul a new creation. As Sunday’s reading from Luke states (Lk 10:1-12, 17-20), that required his disciples to transform their fears of this world into the knowledge of who we are in the mind of God.

“Behold, I have given you the power to ‘tread upon serpents’ and scorpions and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.  Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

That’s a logbook representing beings who are both physical and spiritual. Maybe by embracing the tactile (like touching rosary beads while reciting prayers our ancestors taught us), we can free our spiritual nature from the fleeting distractions of this world so we can communicate on God’s wordless eternal wavelength for a good solid 20 minutes at a time. Just a thought.

–Tom Andel

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