Thursday, June 23, 2011

Divine Conversations at the End Tables

I LOVE to read. There really are too many books and not enough time.

Growing up, I used to read in bed (until my mom would peak in the door at some hour much beyond my bedtime and tell me that the light needed to be turned off NOW). Today, however, the couch is my preferred late-night reading spot. So, I like my end tables well-laden with possibilities.

Lately, some really excellent reads have found their way to a prominent spot on my end tables. I’ve dug into a couple of old favorites on Christian living, a few adoption-related helpers and stretchers, a library book that was recommended by a friend, and a little yellow book on neuroscience that I found at the thrift store.

Wonderful, fascinating stuff.

I am particularly intrigued by the information on neuroscience. Seriously, if I could pick any career for myself now (and skip all the required training!), I would so be a “something that starts with neuro-“ Learning about the brain gets me excited about thinking!

In The Naked Brain, Restak discusses all sorts of things that scientists are learning about brain functioning. When I read, I can’t help but think about our brain-Maker. And thinking about our brain-Maker makes me think about His Word.

For example, Restak says, “At any given moment our brain is largely under the influence of automatic processes” (p. 22). Automatic processes are balanced by controlled processes, which are conscious, sequential, explainable, etc. (as in the brain work required for following a recipe or balancing your checkbook). In contrast, automatic processes are complex and multifaceted, unconscious, effortless, and often unexplainable (as in an immediate attraction to an individual across a room). They enable us to walk to the refrigerator without consciously deciding which foot to move first, to pick up a food-laden fork and bring it to the mouth without ceasing all conversation in order to concentrate on that motion, to type a sentence in a matter of seconds, to ride a bike, etc. Just think about all the things you do without really thinking! (Ooh, and if you like this scientific brain-stuff as much as I do, click here and try testing some of your own automatic responses in relation to some common unconscious stereotypes. Just remember that your frontal lobes can help you to control any unwanted prejudice: You are not a slave to any automatic response!)

Then, Restak asserts, “In essence, our brain is organized so that once an activity becomes routine it doesn’t require conscious effort but occurs automatically” (p. 24). That brings me to the brain-Maker’s words. I have always loved the discipleship message of 2 Peter 1. It says, “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires. In view of all this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises” (verses 3-5). God says we’ve got all we need to make it! Even more, God says we can share his divine nature! But there is this one thing: we’ve got to practice—to “make every effort” as Peter says—or, as a neurologist might suggest, we need to attend to these spiritual matters to the point where automatic brain processing takes place. We do holy brain-training.

More brain-Maker words jumped out at me from the pages of my library book: “I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little” (Philippians 4:11-12). Voskamp continues with her own commentary, admitting, “I read it many times, groping for the latch….Twice Paul whispers it: ‘I have learned…’ Learned. I would have to learn eucharisteo….Learn it like I know my skin, my face, the words on the end of my tongue. Like I know my own name. Learn how to be thankful…” (p. 47).

This library book, one thousand gifts, centers on the idea of gratitude and discloses one woman’s journey to fullness of life through disciplined thanksgiving—the purposeful and specific naming of God’s gifts. Reading this book is really challenging me to consider what joy I might find, what goodness and fullness I might add to my days and hours, if I was intentional about recognizing the richness of God’s giving to me and about giving thanks to God in return. I’m only half-way through the book…I feel I can’t read it too quickly…but I’m already comfortable making its recommendation.

Meditating on these ideas for several days—the call of the Maker to enjoy his gifts (big and small, easy and hard, beautiful and painful)—I was intrigued when, curled up on the couch with My Naked Brain, I read this: “Unfortunately, our brain is more affected by negative than positive information….negative information weighs more heavily on the brain and has greater impact than equally extreme positive information…Since negative information ‘weighs more heavily’ on the brain, it’s important to actively counter it with a more positive interpretation of events” (Restak, p. 80, 82-83).

And I think I hear the brain-Maker say, “I told you so.” And it sounded something like this:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6),

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2).

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18),

“And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20),

“…be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe” (Hebrews 12:28),

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).

So what kind of conversations are going on at your end tables (bedside tables, reading chair, bookshelves, etc.)?


Karen said...

the more i read your blog, the more i like you! i sure wish our families lived closer! we have much in common!! kashiku enjoyed andrew's email! when is a good time for the kids to talk?

wonder wilks said...

i am reading 'one thousand gifts' too! and i love it! so practical but so freeing!

Heidi said...

I love your eclectic collection of books! -I also love to read multiple books of various topics at the same time, you sound like a kindred spirit!

Rob and Candy said...

great blog post! I love your thoughts! I also saw a fav book of mine- your God is too safe. happy reading