Spirituality and the brain.

I have been looking forward to this week’s conversation since we got the syllabus. Theology and spirituality have deep impacts on the subjects of neurology and psychology, and yet this interdisciplinary conversation rarely takes place.

This week’s readings and audio recordings were pertinent. I especially enjoyed the concept of a mental bazaar and cathedral. I have most definitely found my mind to be a bazaar over the last couple of years; I have much less focus and feel as though my brain bounces around from one thing to the next. When I start to do a task, I often find myself having started a few other tasks in the meantime, and while I can complete all of the tasks by the end of the day, I wish I could start and finish one task at a time for purposes of focus and mental stamina. I appreciated understanding how spiritual practices can begin to hone our bazaar-brains into cathedrals. Quite literally, spiritual practices shape and change our brains, and this is a concept I have become increasingly fascinated by because of my history with spirituality and mental health.

Growing up, if someone had brought up in my home church the impact that theology has on the human brain, the leaders would have likely assumed that person was attempting to say God was a concept of the human mind. They also may have taken a defensive position, saying that a God who was all good and all powerful could not possibly have any sort of negative impact on the brain. However, now people like Andrew Newberg and many others (I have heard of Dr. Jerome Leubbe speak on this subject as another resource) are beginning to study the incredible impact that faith, belief, and spirituality have on the brain.

What a person believes and how a person believes it impacts the life that person lives. It impacts how they think about themselves and their place in the world. A person’s beliefs also quite literally changes their brain–the shape, the neural pathways, the chemicals and nerve firings, etc. As I grew up believing in a God who was constantly watching me, expecting me to do wrong because humans are innately wrong, inflicting punishments and holding over my head the most extreme punishment, namely this enigmatic fiery place called hell, I became a very shame-based and fearful human. Everything was scary, bad, wrong, and sinful. I am just now getting to a place of combing through my spiritual and religious traumas from my personhood. Who a person believes in and how a person practices that belief literally changes their brain structure! This reality is so encouraging to me, because just as the God I was trained to believe in may have negatively impacted my brain and thought patterns, I can retrain my brain through positive spiritual practices.

I am greatly looking forward to our class discussion about these topics! They are subjects about which I am extremely passionate.

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