We Christians are big believers in change – Well, not all Christians. Probably not the Rick Santorum-type. But that’s not Jesus’ fault, that he, and those like him, totally miss the point of this faith that emphasizes transformation, and forgiveness, and repentance and conversion – What are these, if not words about minds being changed? In fact, what is education, if not something that changes your mind? And we Presbyterians are big on education (Princeton, anyone?)
And once again, neuroscience supports what people of faith have known all along: Our brains – Our minds – can be changed, no matter how old we are. Otherwise, why practice any faith at all, if not for the hope of being changed? That old adage “You can’t teach a dog new tricks” describes our reluctance to change, not our ability. When you change your mind, it literally, physically, neurologically, chemically, hormonally, anatomically – changes.
It’s called “neuroplasticity,” although I prefer the term, “neuro-genesis.” (It’s even got Judeo-Christian scripture built in – genesis.) And it means that we can see the anatomical changes in our brains, whether from experiences, or from deliberate practice on our part. And when those same scientists talk about the ways we can change our brains, they often are describing spiritual disciplines with deep roots in many faith traditions.
Religion and science love to debate who has the better handle on the truth. Some religious leaders scoff at any anatomical or biological evidence that may account for our actions; some researchers belittle anyone who claims to believe in God or practice a faith. And yet, what better evidence of how science and religion come together to describe the same phenomena: Research “proves” what our faith has “asserted”: These amazing brains of ours are designed to changed, and the power to do so is in our hands. I wish more researchers tapped into the spiritual practices of average congregations; I wish more congregations fine-tuned their practices in light of the research.