Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Thinking with the Heart and the Brain

It’s about 60 A.D. The Apostle Paul is in Rome, a prisoner, awaiting his audience with the emperor as is his right as a Roman citizen. The waits could be long, and Paul likely waited about two years.

In the meantime, he writes letters to the churches he helped to found, in what is now present-day Turkey and Greece. He was particularly close to one church, that of Ephesus, located on the coast of what was then the province of Asia (present-day western Turkey). Ephesus faced the Aegean Sea.

Ephesus was the provincial capital, famous for its temple of Diana or Artemis. The city’s amphitheater could hold between 25,000 and 30,000 people. It had a stadium like all important cities of the empire. Paul had founded the church there, and had stayed in Ephesus for three years. He knew the city, he knew the people, and he knew the church.

His letter to the Ephesians is primarily a letter of encouragement (other churches, like the one at Corinth, received reprimands). And early in the letter, he uses a curious expression: the eyes of the heart. “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened,” he writes, “in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you” (Eph. 1:18).

We associate the heart with feelings, and particularly love. We associate the brain with thinking and with the processing of what the senses absorb. But as Christa Black Gifford points out in
Heart Made Whole: Turning Your Unhealed Pain into Your Greatest Strength, the heart and the brain are intimately connected.

“But when you ask people to turn on all of their heart to experience God,” she says, “some get very nervous that you’re asking them to turn off their brains. …In fact, the condition of your heart is most affected by the three-pound organ sitting inside your skull.”

And that is the connection Paul is making with “the eyes of the heart.” He’s telling the Ephesians to fully experience God by opening the eyes of their heart.

To feel, the heart must understand; to understand, it must see; and for the heart to see, the brain must be operating. Experiencing God is an all-sensory experience. The heart is involved, but so is the brain.

And no, you don’t check your brain at the church door. If fact, the brain is vitally necessary for faith. It’s vital for both the expression of faith and the deepening and maturing of faith. Faith is not an all-emotional experience.

We hear what Paul says. We bring our brains to bear on what we believe. And we open the eyes of our heart.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’re reading Heart Made Whole. Consider reading along and join in the discussion. To see what others are saying about this chapter, “Your Heart-Brain Connection,” please visit Jason at Connecting to Impact.

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

1 comment:

Martha Jane Orlando said...

Yes, these two, the heart and the brain, must work in tandem for us to develop fully in our faith. One of my favorite praise songs is "Open the Eyes of My Heart." Fits perfectly with Paul's writing!
Blessings, Glynn!