Life on Multiple Levels

Yes, you’re thinking about this as you read it, but what else is your soul up to?

Image Copyright Joel OrmsbyWe tend to think of the brain like a computer processor. In fact, that was the dominant way of looking at how people think and process information for several decades. Over time, though, various other ways of thinking about thinking came up, and they really needed to. We don’t process data like a computer. If you really want to stick with a technological analogy, something closer might be the internet: we process millions of pieces of information all at the same time in different places and even in different ways. In more tech terms, our brains are parallel processors, not serial processors.

I think we can often forget this. We tend to act as if we only have one “processor” in our heads. What we think is all that matters. Belief is reduced to rational acceptance, and factual analysis is the only thing necessary for our faith, growth, and relationship with God. We miss a lot of what God made for us when we do this.

Many psychologists have known for a long time that there’s more going on than just what we think. Our hearts and lungs continue to function while we move through life, controlled by the brain. Emotions come and go and are processed (or not) as life affects us. Daniel Stern argues that before a certain age, we don’t process information like we typically do now – with rational, symbolic thought. We add a layer on top of it as infants, but our processing becomes split when we learn to work this way, and we tend to forget that there’s anything going on underneath – more than just conscious thinking.

Our hearts tell us things. Blaise Pascal, brilliant mathematician and then armchair theologian and philosopher, said, “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.” Some things happen in us that our minds aren’t in control of and can’t be in control of. You can’t wish away a toothache or anxiety or decide to not have them (though the will is strong enough to transform them into other things, but such things linger in the body and soul).

I had a friend in high school who once commented to me on a whim, “You know, when you think about it, the body is just a carrying case for the brain.” As if we are nothing but thinkers.

We are more than thinkers. Our theology is not enough. Our understanding of God is not enough. Our analysis of what to do and how to behave is not enough. We think. We feel. We intuit. We merge and transform ideas without consciously thinking about them (ever wake up in the middle of the night with the solution to a problem or suddenly have an inspiration in the shower?). All of this is part of us, and therefore God invites those parts of us to be in relationship with Him.

We tend to make statements about our faith (“That’s a sin.” “God loves you.” “God loves me.” “Love you wives.” “You should evangelize.” etc.), but we don’t always join these important but still quite rational statements to the rest of our souls. What feelings arise when those statements are made or when you make them? Where do your thoughts go when they’re made? What desires go along with them? Not what should, but what actually do go along with them? How does your body feel at those moments? What happens with all of these things 45 minutes later?

We need the symbolic, analytical, rational truths to serve as guideposts and boundaries to our faith and relationship with God, but they aren’t the whole of it. God told Israel to bring the whole offering into the temple (e.g., Deu. 13:16). If we ourselves are the offering to God, (e.g., Rom. 12:1) then He desires our whole selves.

What are you holding back? This isn’t a question of failure or sin or judgement. It’s a question of growth and relationship. How much richer could our lives of prayer and worship and simply being with God be enriched by placing more and more of this multi-leveled soul into communion with Him? Perhaps those questions from above might be useful starting places for things to ask God and talk about in prayer.

What is this parallel processing brain and multi-faceted soul of mine doing, God? What is happening in me beyond just my thoughts?

Other Trails to Follow:
Updating One’s Map of [God]

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