Renewal / bodily healing / re-sculpting the brain

What is it about human life, which God transforms through spiritual renewal?

Let me expand this reflection’s title:

Renewal / bodily healing / re-sculpting the brain: transformation through practicing the way of Jesus

I am coming to believe that salvation and thus also spiritual renewal always effects— bodily healing.

I recently read Joel Green’s 2015 work titled, Conversion in Luke-Acts: Divine Action, Human Cognition, and the People of God (BakerAcademic).  In this exploration on the meaning of “conversion” in Luke-Acts, Green utilizes insights from the contemporary neurosciences. Specifically, the source of habitualised human behaviours and actions ultimately lie in the very sculpting of the human brain’s neurological structure— a sculpting that occurs by those very behaviours and habits constantly repeated on a daily basis.  Hence, Green explores how the “conversion” that the Spirit of God causes in people, largely comprises a “human biological metamorphosis, transformations at the level of neural networks.” (p. 43)

Therefore current cognitive science thus substantiates an important theme of Scripture, or the biblical portrayal of human life undergoing the renewing work of God’s Spirit: spiritual renewal deeply touches, and aimed towards transforming the very physical stuff of human life.  Ultimately, then, spiritual renewal, well involves and really is— bodily healing

Green provides a lot of helpful examples from Luke’s narratives, demonstrating how “repentance” throughout Luke-Acts consistently comprises the forsaking of old practices/habits and an embracing of new practices/habits, thereby effecting real bodily transformation; not just personally but within entire communities.  Of course a crucial example can be observed in the parallel between John the Baptist’s preaching and the new Christian way of life demonstrated in Acts 2 (see page 125):

Luke 3.10-14: “What should we do?”

Acts 2.37: “what should we do?”

John the Baptist gives a list of new practices (Luke 3.7-14).

Luke summarises several new practices characterising spiritual renewal (Acts 2.42-47).

In his Epilogue, Green suggests two important conclusions:

  1. Reading Scripture in light of “cognitive” scientific insights “posit the critical importance . . . of bodily, existence as the basis and means of human experience, including religious experience.” Here, Green infers as I earlier motioned an understanding of salvation as indeed bodily healing, or the healing of an embodied life.  For he writes: “there can be no transforation that is not fully embodied. . . . Who we are— and, therefore, what it means to undergo conversion— is inescapably tied to our bodies and to the community (or communities) we inhabit.” (p. 162)
  2. Second, from these premises, and recalling the strong “travel/journey” metaphors and imageries that Luke uses to illustrated the “converted” life or “life being converted” throughout Luke-Acts, Green concludes with an insightful definition of “conversion”:

“Converts are those who, enabled by God, have undergone a redirectional shift and no persist along the Way with the community of those faithfully serving God’s eschatological purpose as this is evident in the life, death, and exaltation of the Lord Jesus Christ, and who whose lives are continually being formed through the Spirit at work in and through practices constitutive of this community.” (p. 163)

To reiterate my earlier reflection, what foremost strikes me from Green’s book is how this study enjoins us to consider spiritual renewal as something that is aimed towards and thereby effects— real bodily transformation.  This in turn nuances our understanding of salvation as something always comprising physical healing.  Salvation always involves physical healing.  It does so because spiritual renewal actually begins with the very physical stuff that defines us, and moreover within the very neurological structure of the human brain.  For Spirit caused habits through the practices of Jesus— work healing in the very bodily structures of who we are— transforming us on the way to new creation.

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A blessing of peace for pilgrims on the way

May the Lord Himself give you peace

May He in all places give you faith

May He at all times give you hope.

May God Himself sanctify you

May He save you all the way

Through and through.

May His Spirit fill you

May He power you

With love.

Changi Beach

Overflowing

The love of God is overflowing

It reaches to, the deepest sea.

 

The love of God is overflowing;

It rises up, for you and me.

 

The love of God is overflowing;

Like a fount, that’s pure and free.

 

The love of God, is overflowing;

It’s flowing down, for you and me.

 

I don’t know where the lyrics came from, but they came to me.

Some relevant verses are: Ezekiel 47; John 4.14; 7.37-38.

 

waterfalls

Our saving aim is not heaven, but healed creation

In the biblical meaning of salvation, the great aim for followers of Christ is not going to heaven to be with Him (though in a sense, included), but following him for the healing of creation; and not a future creation— but the present one.  

For heaven signifies God’s throne, the sphere from which He reigns over all things. Through the Spirit we reign with Christ in the heavenly realms; but in the age to come, we shall reign with Him over present creation fully healed. That is the “heavenly reward” for which we now labour— we labour for the healing of creation, which begins with our healed humanity. Hence, the Scripture says, “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God . . . in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8.19, 21).

On these themes, Roman Catholic theologian Kilian McDonnell, provides helpful clarity:

“The role of the Spirit is also cosmic. . . . In Romans 8:15-16 the prayer of the Spirit in us crying ‘Abba! Father’ is precisely a cry of children to their Father, lifting up the whole of the created order which shared in Adam’s ruin. Echoing Yahweh’s promise to Noah of the covenant to be made ‘between me and you and every living creature’ (Gen 9:12-13), Paul affirms solidarity of the nonhuman world with the human world in the redemption Christ has wrought. 

Therefore the cosmos groans as if in labour to share in our liberty and freedom as those who live the life of the Spirit, making us God’s children. . . .

Paul does not consider the body as something separate from the rest of creation. At the triumph of redeemed humanity, the cosmos will not stand aside, as though it were scaffolding and could now be discarded. Like the body itself, the universe, of which the body is a part, will be transformed, and in its own way glorified. 

The issue is cosmic redemption in solidarity with human redemption. In the Spirit there is no creation-less redemption. Salvation is for the whole of created order.”

Kilian McDonnell, The Other Hand of God: The Holy Spirit as the Universal Touch and Goal (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2003), p. 211.

Show us Your way

Show us Lord not a way, but Your way.

Grant us the open door that none can shut

For You have crucified us to the world

And the world to us.

So as you show us Your way

May we let your whole world

Set the horizons before us

That we may go and come

Wherever You send us

In the fullness of Christ’s blessing.

Amen.
Reflections from Exodus 33.13f; Roman 15.23, 28-29; Galatians 5.14b; Revelations 3.8.

Prayer for cities worldwide

Father, in the way of Jesus 
With joy in Your Spirit, we praise You. 

Enable us to cause global justice 

To labour against poverty and hatred. 
We pray that within our cities 

You enable us to share our space 

With many peoples not like us. 
Enable us to embrace them 

That through our differences 

We grow into full humanity 

Shown through Jesus’ life 

In whose name we pray 

Through Your Spirit 

That makes us one.

Amen. 
I crafted this prayer, drawing themes and its structure from a Collect for “Cities” in the Book of Common Prayer. The Collect specifically concludes by suggesting that only through encountering people “from different cultures,” can we find “with one another the fulfilment of” our “humanity through Jesus Christ our Lord.” I directly informing this prayer is the “many tongues” theme of Pentecost. Another factor that guiding my own version of the prayer, was sitting in a briefing yesterday for upcoming national missions conference in 2018, the focus of which will be on cities. 

Following are further parts of the original Collect:

Heavenly Father . . . you have given us a vision of that holy City to which the nations of the world bring their glory: Behold and visit, we pray, the cities of the earth. . . . 

Enable us to eliminate poverty, prejudice, and oppression . . . that men and women from different cultures and with differing talents may find with one another the fulfillment of their humanity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Let us go

Foxes have holes, birds have nests

Yet let us go forth to the other side

Walking on raging waters

Finding our rest in 

Christ the Victor
Following Him 

Like prophets waging war 

Against all imprisoning powers 

Proclaiming the Year of God’s favour.

Several Scriptures inspire the preceding speech-act: 1. Discipleship involves sojourning (Luke 9.57-62); 2. Jesus’ word to the disciplines to “go to the other side,” where on the way they witness Jesus’ authority over the raging waters (which in Scripture signifies opposing spiritual powers), is often a symbol calming the storm. On the “other side,” Jesus brings them into a pagan land where they encounter the tormented man living in tombs (Luke 5.1-13). There, the disciples share in Jesus’ prophetic ministry of proclaiming Jubilee (Luke 4.16-18).

Note that I refer to the reflection as a “speech-act.” It has today dawned on me that for some time now, I find myself writing many such “speech-acts.” A speech act (“Let us . . . “) is a declaration that encourages action in a stated direction. When inspired by the Holy Spirit, or when good, true, and beautiful, all speech acts find their primal example in the creation story, where God says, “Let there be light, and there was light.” This means that all true, good, and beautiful speech-acts promise light, life, and goodness— flourishing (Gen. 1.3-25f).

Let us go forth to the other side

Following Him 

Proclaiming the Year of God’s favour.