Thursday, 30 August 2012

Spirituality 46: Anatomy of faith


Did you know that, throughout the Centuries, God led us to understand better an important relationship between two of our mind’s operations: “understanding” and “believing”?
I would like to discuss here how these two operations would be happening in our brain.
First let us get a more complete vision of all the steps involved in the act of faith.

What is the whole process of “believing”?

Remember the “act of faith” is made on a word. In order to make an act of faith you need to know “faith in what?” In fact God says something and you believe in it or not. He gave you words, and it is up to you to believe or not. In order to make an "act of faith", you rely on a word (or a sentence from the Bible, or a given contents of faith, a definition of a mystery…), you lean on it, as you lean on a “trampoline” in order to jump much higher with “the direct help of the grace of God” and reach the contents of that Word, Mystery, Being.

a- The first act: “understanding”
As much as the mind can operate with “the general help of the Grace of God”, we have to understand the contents of the Faith (a certain “mystery” for instance) in order to believe. “Understanding” here helps us lean better on the word received and on the Grace of God. God gave us a mind and a brain in order to understand what is revealed to us, and the “act of faith” itself relies on the mind and on the first understanding of what is given to us. “Understanding” here is not “seeing”, it is only understanding the words we read and their normal meaning, in their own context.

b- The second act: “believing”
Having understood a minimum, we can then make an act of faith, and believe. "Believing" is like jumping on a trampoline: the trampoline is the word of God, the momentum/drive comes from the fact that we put ourselves in the Hand of the Grace of God that elevates us. Being placed higher, we can then “see”. “In your Light we see the Light” (Psalm).

c- The third act: “knowing”
“Believing” leads us to an infused knowledge. “infused” means made with “the direct help of the Grace of God”. This is radically a higher level of knowledge that God only can give, with the condition of “believing”.
The "knowledge" is the result of the direct action of the Holy Spirit in our mind: it enters in it, fecundates it with it’s Light and Strength, elevates the mind toward the Divine Light of God, and makes it work in a new way, seeing new things in God and in His Mysteries. “In your Light we see the Light” says the Psalms.

D- The fourth act: a second “understanding”
In order to do another act of Faith, we have to go through the same process again, but with the difference that we have something added: the received “knowing”. In the work of the mind, you rely now not only on the normal “mind work”, but you have a new added information of a higher level that has been added (see c) that boosts your normal “mid work”.
Again, you do a mind work like in (a) and it goes on the same (a, b, c, d).

You can easily guess that this series of acts will improve the quality of the “mind work”, because the more you make acts of faith, the more the “mind” (and brain) will be filled with “knowledge”-graces that help boost the plain normal work of the mind. A “divine blood” will be more and more flowing in the mind.
Faith grows this way.

To sum up we can say that, in order to grow, we are called to “walk” with these two “legs” (“understanding” and “believing”), putting one in front of the other. Each one helps the other. “understand in order to believe” and “believe in order to know”. (The supernatural “knowledge” is added to previous “understanding”, like a new blood irrigating it.)
You find that teaching for instance in John Paul II’s letter on Saint Augustinesection 1: “reason and faith”. (Credo ut intelligam (I believe in order to know) Intelligo ut credam (I know in order to believe) )

Theresa of Avila
Theresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church in “Spiritual life”, sheds a very important light on the dynamism of growth of our faith.
She reminds us of a classical teaching she probably found through the disciples of saint Thomas Aquinas. She says:
one thing is to experience a grace received from God,
another is to understand it, and
another is to express it (explain it to others). (see Life 17,5; see as well 12,6 and 30,4)


I would put it this way:
1- one thing is to “understand”, “believe” an have the “knowledge” (all the process of believing),
2- another is to process that knowledge, use it, brake it into pieces, understand it, learn to find the right words that express it, formulate it, compare it with the experience of others (the past) and
3- another thing to find the right words to express it, to formulate it, to compare it with the experience of others (the past) and to be able to find “how to say it” today, without changing it.

Note: You may put 1 under the first “leg”: “believe in order to know” and 2+3 under the second “leg”: “understand in order to believe (a second time)”.

Conclusion

As a conclusion we can say that Faith is not static, but a “biological” Talent given to us, put in our hands, and we need to make it grow by this two ways, balancing, movement: “understanding Û believing”. By just remaining with our actual faith, without doing anything, and not making any effort, we are stopping the flow of the grace of God in us that makes us grow.

“Corpus Callosum”

Now, I am speaking to neuroscientists, and this is the goal of this post (all what I said was an introduction to this:). I know research is done on the two hemispheres of the brain, their relationship (how they communicate), and the part of the brain that connects them: the “Corpus Callosum” (see the anatomy of the brain). We are still in the beginning of a new era of research and findings on the brain (neuroscience), but here is what I am wondering:
Neuroscientists are telling us that, in general, each hemisphere of the brain processes a different type of information. It looks like the right one processes, amongst many other things, intuition, connection, spiritual life, connection with God (that would be “faith”, the effort to open ourselves and connect with God). While the left one processes analytical thought, step by step thought, language, expression, connection with the world surrounding us (that would be the place for “understanding the faith”, and “processing” it and trying to “express it”).
So the two ways of the mind:

“work”        and     “communication”
( “understanding” <==> “believing” )

seem to me to go physically through the two hemispheres of the brain. Neuroscientists will have to confirm that. The actual state of the research leads to that statement, but I prefer to be prudent. These would be the paths for a "wholesome faith":

God -->
   Communication with God in the mind -->
      [ left side of the brain --> corpus callosum --> right side of the brain ] -->
      Thinking with the mind + Reaching the outside world through speech… Earth

If we momentarily accept this experimental hypothesis, and the previous conclusion, this would mean that by performing the two ways “balancing movement” (understanding <-> believing) - that looks like a “walking” movement - we not only develop each hemisphere of the brain on its own, but we increase the flow of information in the “corpus callosum”, we develop it in itself and we strengthen it.

A healthy growing faith would probably have then, as a result, a healthy “corpus callosum”.
Corpus callosum (anatomy)
Not only faith is a gift from God, but the brain as well. The Brain is a marvelous tool God gave us and we have to keep it healthy. A healthy whole “faith life” gives us a healthier “whole brain”.

Let me sum up all that in few points:

1- Faith involves the activation of all the brain: both it's hemispheres and it's “corpus callosum”.
2- Activating only one part of the faith (which is just: “believing”) is incomplete because, in this case we activate only the right hemisphere of the brain. The “corpus callosum” and the left hemisphere of the brain remain “silent”. That laziness is not healthy. We can’t give account to our faith, and we tend to become fideist. Each degree of faith requires a similar degree of reception of this faith and its fruits, through thinking, exploring, and understanding, letting the supernatural light received sink in the brain and in the mind.
3- Therefore we are invited to channel the information about faith, its experience, to the left hemisphere of the brain. Otherwise we have like a split brain: “what I believe” doesn’t relate to “what I live”, and vice versa. "I believe in God", but I can’t say “I understand Him”, I can’t say a word about Him to my “neighbour”. My faith is not “brain and mind processed” properly. It remains blocked in the left hemisphere. In fact I end up leading a “schizophrenic” life. Faith is not flowing from God (heaven) to earth.
4- In order to let is flow, we have to do it in a coordinated way: it is the info present in the left hemisphere that should go to the right one, through the “Corpus Callosum”, in order to be processed. In the beginning, that exercise will look difficult, it will be like going through a very narrow passage. The connections between the neurons are not created, and we need to create them.
(to be continued…)

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