Spirituality and Your Brain

Psalm 26: 2-3

“Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth.”

In this sermon I would like to briefly define spirituality and spiritual intelligence, mention recent research, and list some Scripture concerning spiritual intelligence in an effort to inspire us to pursue a more spiritual life. “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience,” stated Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Our spirituality is our most vital characteristic, and moreso, the premise of who we are. Yet we underestimate it, and frankly, neglect it. Humanity is able to connect on a spiritual level, but we rarely try to connect with our spiritual selves. We are more connected today than ever before technologically with cell phones, texts, emails, and being able to see global news in real time. But that comes at a cost. We lose face to face interaction, so at the end of a busy day being “connected,” we may end up feeling more isolated and alienated than ever before. What we truly need is the genuine connection to each other, and with nature. What we truly need is to connect our spirit to God’s. Intuitively we may realize that God has programmed us for spirituality, and modern science is confirming it.

In his article “What is Spirituality?” Caleb Rosado writes, “One of the crucial problems human beings are beginning to experience in the 21st century, and arising out of the information highway and the technological reconstruction of all aspects of everyday life, both in business and leisure, is all the cacophony and on-line noise humans are subjected to as a direct by-product of being technologically wired to a virtual, imaginational world of mind-connect and artificial human interactions. Wherever people go they are increasingly finding themselves artificially connected with others in a non-real world through computer technology and other forms of media on a 24/7/365 basis. At some point people are going to want to be alone, away from it all, with all systems turned off. One of the great needs thus will be for “silence,” for “dead air,” for “quiet zones,” where people can separate themselves from technology and experience peace, sanity, tranquility, and rest from all the “technoise” of a wired life. They will also be profoundly driven by a thirst for what is “real,” for what is “genuine.” …This thirst for the “quiet” and for genuine connection to what is

“real,” raises a couple of important questions regarding the quality of our spiritual well-being in the 21st century. Will the information highway have a “rest area”? Will the imaginational world of information technology, with all its built-in illusions, ever give us an experience of the real and genuine? The answer is “yes.” But it will not be found in the digital, holographic world but in the world of the Spirit—connection with God, the only real entity in an illusory world who can give genuine peace and satisfaction to the restless and thirsty soul.”

Being spiritual does not mean checking out of reality into a spaced- out zone. Spirituality has been defined as being more in tune with the world, being present to the most profound realities of the world. It may become a way of uniting the world even though its religions are very diverse. Carolyn Shields writes in “Liberating Discourses:” “Spirituality is the prior condition…that various theological traditions represent different paths by which we seek fulfillment through connecting to the deepest realities and mysteries of life. Spirituality thus helps us to answer questions related to who we are and the meaning of life…Different religious traditions and other ways of seeking “truth” (for example, through looking inward, looking to nature, or meditation), are all expressions of our spirituality. For those who have chosen to follow a particular religious tradition, the norms of that tradition will inevitably represent the ways in which they have chosen to work out their spirituality in the world.”

Caleb Rosado provides boundaries for this worldview: “Both Eastern religions and Christianity focus on a “mystical union” with God and the sacredness of life. Yet there is a profound difference between the two. However intimate this union with God is, Christian mysticism never abandons the otherness of God, and the mystic never ceases to be God’s creature. Christianity never “deifies” the individual in this quest for union and communion with God. The human does not become God, and God does not become human, except in the person of Christ. The boundaries are still there, while experiencing a harmonic oneness with the Divine, the God of the Cosmos.”

Brian Luke Seaward describes the challenges of defining a concept of worldwide spirituality in Ego and the Soul: “How do you describe the indescribable? By all accounts the topic of human spirituality is difficult to articulate, in both general and specific terms. Perhaps it is safe to say that we as the human species—no matter what language is spoken, whether it is English, Arabic, Chinese, or Swahili, currently don’t possess the vocabulary to give the concept of spirituality an adequate definition or description. Renowned philosopher, Aldous Huxley described human spirituality as the perennial philosophy; a transcendent or divine reality beyond the limitations of cultures, religions and egos…Undoubtedly, spirituality includes the aspects of higher

consciousness, transcendence, self-reliance, love, faith, enlightenment, community, self- actualization, compassion, forgiveness, a higher power, grace, and a multitude of other qualities. If you were to talk to the shamans, healers, sages, mystics and wisdom keepers of all times, of all ages, and all languages, and ask them what constitutes the core of human spirituality, unequivocally you would hear them say the same three things time and time again: relationships, values, and purpose in life–all leading one to a higher consciousness of the divine. Even with the understanding that human spirituality is extremely difficult to articulate, relationships, values and purpose in life are understood to be the heart of what it’s all about.”

So can we gain “spiritual” intelligence? It is easier to define other kinds of intelligence, such as mathematical, musical, and verbal, from Howard Gardner’s research into categories of intelligence, but what is spiritual intelligence? Psychologist Frances Vaughan answers the question: “Spiritual intelligence is concerned with the inner life of mind and spirit and its relationship to being in the world…It implies a capacity for a deep understanding of existential questions and insight into multiple levels of consciousness…an awareness of spirit as the ground of being or as the creative life force…It is more than individual mental ability. It appears to connect the personal to the transpersonal and the self to spirit. Spiritual intelligence goes beyond conventional psychological development. In addition to self-awareness, it implies awareness of our relationship to the transcendent, to each other, to the earth and all beings. Spiritual intelligence depends on the capacity to see things from more than one perspective and to recognize the relationships between perception, belief, and behavior.”

Recent research has shown that God created our brains to respond and actually grow through spiritual practices. Mario Beauregard, a neuroscientist at the University of Montreal, in his 2007 book, The Spiritual Brain, documents his studies of Carmelite nuns, finding that spiritual experiences are mediated via complex neural pathways and distributed brain regions. The brains of nuns and Buddhist monks have been imaged. Jeffrey Kluger’s Time magazine article “Is God in Our Genes” stated, “Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine has used several types of imaging systems to watch the brains of subjects as they meditate or pray. By measuring blood flow, he determines which regions are responsible for the feelings the volunteers experience.”

There are tangible changes that happen with spirituality. Danah Zohar has coined the term, “Spiritual Capital,” which she sees as what we gain “…by acting from a deep sense of meaning, our deepest values, and a sense of higher purpose, and all of these are best expressed through a life devoted to service.

Based on this definition, spiritual intelligence is that by which we build spiritual capital.”

Zohar’s book states that in general people are driven by negative motivations like fear or anger which can be destructive. “It is the role of spiritual intelligence to raise our motivations to the higher ones of exploration, cooperation, self- and situational-mastery, creativity, and service, …to serve something larger than ourselves – our families, communities, students, employees, customers, humanity, the environment, future generations, and life itself – is the highest form our spirituality can take. It is such service, offered with grace and humility, that puts us in touch with what many religions call “God.” Through it, we literally become servants, or “agents” of God in this world…”

You have the capacities for spiritual intelligence, we all do. Here are some capacities Dana Zohar listed:

Self-Awareness- Knowing oneself and one’s connection with the entire universe.

Vision & Values Led – or Idealism.

The Capacity to Face and use Adversity- Learning is gained through pains and misfortune.

Diversity- Ability in seeing and appreciating others.

Courage – Bravery and ability to adjust and be self-reliant.

The Tendency to Ask Questions.

The Ability to Re-Frame- Setting things in a considerable sense of holistic perspective.

Yes, you possess these qualities, and they help you succeed in every part of life- even work! Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies listed 18 companies of special resilience and fortitude during the past 50 years. What made them truly great was their visionary leadership- and the capacities matched those of spiritual intelligence. Another book, Good to Great by Collins, describes “Level 5 Leadership” that moved companies from being good to great using characteristics we would term spiritually intelligent. Patricia Aburdene, co-author of the bestselling book Megatrends 2000, stated that “spirituality in the workplace is the new Megatrend.” Giving employees meaning, purpose, a bigger picture, and a connectivity with the sacred helps a company thrive.

From the beginning the Bible has taught spiritual intelligence. We find the best example in the life of Jesus. Jesus was “full of spirit and truth,” and he “opened the minds” of the disciples. On the Sermon on the Mount once Jesus called the disciples, “men of little minds” because they were reluctant to accept the mystery of living spiritual lives. In Colossians 3:2 Paul wrote, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” Romans 8:6 states, “To be

spiritually minded is life and peace.” Ephesians 4:22 instructs us to “Be renewed in the Spirit of your mind.” By practicing more spiritual lives, lives of relationship and prayer, our minds can become renewed and our lives more tuned to God’s plan for each of us. When we feel isolated and alienated from nature, each other, from ourselves, or from God, let us remember that we have the capacity to become more spiritual, and let us prayerfully re-center our lives. Amen.