Getting Down to Business: Re-wiring our Brains for Lent

February 23, 2015

In my previous post, I introduced Father Oscar Lukefahr’s column, Re-program Your Brain for Lent. Today I want to present his further teachings which I hope will inspire readers to work purposefully towards the new man, hand in hand with Christ.

Spiritual direction is really difficult to come by, which is why I am grateful for the lack of pious platitudes and the inclusion of the scientific and practical insights Father Lukefahr uses to light the way towards a closer relationship with God. On rewiring he writes:

The first step in rewiring our brains is to realize that they are already wired for God! Recent experiments indicate that our brains are designed to contact God.

St. Augustine alluded to this when he wrote, “Our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” God didn’t create us to dump us here on earth with no way to connect to Him. We not only have been wired from early on in our formation to seek God, the impetus, unless extinguished by willful determination, remains a powerful driver for us that can combat negative programming and it is written in our biology.

St. John of the Cross wrote that we can have our most direct experience of God if we detach ourselves from sensory stimuli as much as possible. Brain scans now show that people deep in contemplation produce a distinct pattern of neural activity where information flowing from the senses slows dramatically and the mind experiences a sensation of unity with God. What St. John taught has a basis in biology. Our brains are wired for God in the same way they are wired for light. Seeing light stimulates a part of the brain designed to receive light. Contemplation stimulates a part of the brain designed to experience union with God. However, we will lose touch with God if we don’t keep the neural pathways busy.

From this we see that the atmosphere in which we pray is as important as forming habits of prayer. This seems like a good first step towards rewiring our brains for holiness: create a place and time for prayer that will dampen down information flowing into our senses, or find such a place such as an Adoration chapel, a dimly lit room in the home, or a peaceful rock in a forest where we can be alone and not intruded upon.

We must let God speak to us through the Bible, the beauty of nature, the goodness of others, and all the ways God wants to contact us. We must pray, and the more we do, the more God will fill our hearts with grace and peace.

For those who like word linked Scriptural prayer that can help start the rewiring process, Father Lukefahr gives us something easy to start with:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by Thy name (Mt. 6:9). At the name of Jesus, every knee must bend…and every tongue proclaim “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:10-11). No one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:3). The Spirit God gives is no cowardly spirit, but One that makes us strong, loving and wise (2 Tim 1:7).

It’s easy to see how these phrases can stimulate meditation on God and serve as an alternative to negative and bad thoughts that lead us to sin and negative thinking. While it’s not personal, private prayer, I can see how a family game can be made where someone starts with a quote from Scripture and each person builds on it with a subsequent quote, word-linked as here. Members can write down the result for future use.

Father Lukefahr gives us additional Bible quotes to close negative neural pathways and build God-connected ones, although these are not word linked.

I have come to depend on a few favorite verses to close negative neural pathways and open new ones, those that are positive and grace-giving. I simply let Jesus speak words of peace, hope, and courage. A few examples: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid” (Mt. 14:27). “Peace I leave you, my peace I give you” (Jn 14:17). “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will give you rest” (Mat. 11:28).

Rewiring takes effort on our part, but God always meets us more than halfway. Reading the Gospels and writing down words of Jesus that are particularly powerful for us as Father suggests in his article means that we have a ready reference at hand whenever things aren’t going well. This Christ-centered approach is sure to create a great and beautiful pathway that is far more enticing than the ruts of negativity we’ve been stuck in.

Father Lukefahr goes on to make some very interesting statements about prayer and rewiring.

Adoration flips the switch that turns on the brain’s wiring for God. Contrition replaces sin’s darkness with the light of God’s love. Thankgiving helps us count the blessings that open new pathways to happiness. Supplication connects us to God as the source of all good things.

Who’d a thunk it. Traditional Catholic teaching on prayer has all along been using a biological function of the brain that we can direct with our hearts/wills to grow in happiness and virtue. That “stinkin’ thinkin’” the AA program talks about has a powerful antidote. Lent is a good time to get started on new habits of sanctity using the rewiring concept. Who’s with me on this journey?

Note: Father Lukefahr’s community, the Vincentians, has a Catholic Home Study Course called “We Pray: Living in God’s Presence” which would be ideal for building our prayer life this Lent.

Image: The Three Women in Church, Wilhelm Maria Hubertus Leibl, 1881, Kunsthalle Hamburg

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

(Click on the link above to read why I end my posts this way.)

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Monday, February 23rd, 2015 prayers, spirituality

1 Comment to Getting Down to Business: Re-wiring our Brains for Lent

  1. I love reading and learning about praying. Great post Barb. Thanks!
    Colleen recently posted..Ice Coffee

  2. Colleen on March 8th, 2015

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