But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.Galatians 5:22-23, NIV
I came across the book, Neuroscience and the Fruit of the Spirit, and the title intrigued me. Bryan Spoon edifies how our brain is literally wired towards God. I am not a scientist by any means, so I worried about the technical terms, but I found it relatively easy to follow. He combines theology and science with helpful self-help techniques.
The basic premise suggests that the more we practice the fruits of the spirit—love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control— the brain and body undergo positive physiological changes for self-growth and health. We are altering and strengthening our bodies neurologically speaking. The more we practice loving others, we open up neural pathways to become a loving person. Meditating on moments where we received or gave love (or joy, etc.) are helpful as well. The author has exercises at the end of each chapter to allow us to practice and clarify our thoughts.
On the contrary, science also shows when we exhibit long-term hate, fear, impatience, negative stress, anxiety, fear, addictions, anger etc.… the more our brains and body will weaken or shut-down, which inhibits our health. The cycles of abuse and dysfunction in families could continue for generations unless we work to correct them. Being volatile can be easier than being patient.
We are what we practice, scientifically speaking.
In our Spiritual Direction classes, we began our first year by looking at “Our Images of God” in both positive and negative ways. How we imagine God creates the reality in which we live. If we see God as primarily a “punisher,” then guilt and fear may plague our lives. If we see God as a “Friend of Sinners,” we may acknowledge our sins, but more easily focus on God’s forgiveness and grace. We must become self-aware.
We are what we believe, psychologically speaking.
I am neither a scientist nor a psychologist, but the concepts ring true for me. I would rather practice love and goodness than hate and ignorance. I choose to focus on God’s grace rather than His wrath.
While we are saved by God’s grace and can’t technically earn our salvation, we can practice our holiness through our works. We practice actions of love, joy and peace to better build our relationship with God, ourselves and others. Practicing forbearance, kindness, and goodness builds us up spiritually. Faithfulness, gentleness and self-control helps us through the difficulties which life may give us.
And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.Matthew 10:42, NIV
Bryan Spoon points us to a regular practice of the Daily Examen and speaking the Lord’s Prayer. He writes how these practices “are so essential to our faith because they both invite us to ask and to live by reflection on how we are serving God’s will from day to day…” (p.134).
The Examen is a practice of prayer where we seek to see how God is working through each day of our lives. We reflect on our day and see where God is at work. I found it easier for me to practice this in the mornings as I found I kept falling asleep trying to do it at night, but whichever works best. (See link below for more information.)
When Jesus’ disciples asked him how to pray, He taught them the Lord’s Prayer. (Matthew 6:9–13) and (Luke 11:2–4).
It is important to be intentional in our practices of the fruit of the Spirit and in our relationship with God. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but may instead help us live healthier lives.
We can do this by choosing to focus our attention on our gratitude rather than our complaints. We can take the time to focus on our moments of love and joy on a regular basis. We could practice the Daily Examen or the Lord’s prayer habitually. We can help others through acts of service. Our brains can be rewired for joy, but it takes time and dedication. I know I am willing to give it a try.
What changes in your life could create more love? Joy? Peace? Forbearance? Kindness? Goodness? Faithfulness? Gentleness? Self-control? These are questions to ponder. Ultimately, you may wish to take it to God in prayer.
You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?Matthew 17:16, New Living Translation
Neuroscience and the Fruit of the Spirit by Bryan Spoon, MDIV, BCC
The Daily Examen link: https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen/
Examen Prayer Card: https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/examen-prayer-card/
The Lord’s Prayer link: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Lords-Prayer
Translations and History of The Lord’s Prayer: https://www.thenazareneway.com/lords_prayer.htm
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