What is happening in us when we pray? Meditate? Engage in contemplative practices? What do such practices do to the human mind-body? Is God connected to these practices? To the experiences they frame and form? If so, how?
Christians have asked such questions for almost 2000 years. Attentive writers have described in detailed and varied ways what happens with them as (in the words of Brother Lawrence) they “practice the presence of God” while they engage in practices meant to form lives of love, joy, compassion, gratitude, freedom, simplicity, wisdom, peacefulness, service, and justice.
This page offers explorations of the relationship between the spiritual practices of Christianity and modern brain science. We hope what is offered here will spark your interests, your passions, your questions, and your desire to explore how the emerging science of mind – at the intersection of psychology and neurology – might deepen and expand the Christian spiritual path.
Neuroscience – A New Tool for Christian “Attentiveness”
Christian traditions (including, but not limited to, the “contemplative” strands) have always encouraged “attentiveness,” intentional efforts to pay attention to, be aware of, be conscious of, trace, explore, and engage what some have called “movements of the soul.” These movements include the experiencing of emotions, feelings, thoughts, imaginings, memories, ideas, the kinesthetic/sensate/physical, and the absence of these. Christianity has insisted that to understand these movements is to come to know the self more fully, which leads to a life lived more fully with God, a world transformed more fully in love.
The history of Christianity is filled with spiritual practices, spiritual tools, meant to help the faithful attend to the movements of the soul. Recently science has begun to give us another tool for attentiveness: the ability to examine directly how the human brain and the neurophysiological system are functioning in relation to our experiences.
Christians can now begin to combine the understandings of contemporary neuroscience with the tools of classical spiritual practices to examine ever-more-precisely the movements of the soul that have been the subject of spiritual attentiveness throughout the ages. Neuroscience, this new tool for attentiveness, can help us fine tune how we practice the presence of the Divine for good in our world.
Christianity is, of course, a theistic religion (theos = God). That is, it affirms the reality of some transcendent and immanent Mystery (or God or Presence or Spirit or Love or Ground of Being… the language for this is virtually endless). This Mystery lives in a graced relationship with each of us, as well as with the rest of the material world – the world science (among other things) helps us understand more fully.
Christian traditions look particularly to the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth in order to form lives filled with and shaped by the Mystery we call God.
What you will find here
As this page develops, look for:
The items on this page are offered for you to use and to share with others (with appropriate attribution of authorship, please).
In a world that cries out for compassion, justice, and beauty, attending ever more fully to the relationship between the brain, the body, and spiritual practices offers hope for healing and transformation.