Following Jesus

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Following Jesus

Incarnation, Invocation, and Neural Pathways

December 30, 2019 by

Virgen de Irak (Artist unknown)
Virgen de Irak (Artist unknown)

When asked “who are you?” a child will answer by saying his or her name. A name, typically given by parents, is the first invocation of something that cannot be seen, quantified, or owned: the soul. But confronted with that question later in life, adults are liable to select a series of memories that add up to the story we tell ourselves of who we are. Just who are we?

This is the season to focus on incarnation, and much is said of the mother of God. Yet Meister Eckhart says, “We are all meant to be mothers of God … for God is always needing to be born.” What is it that you are trying to incarnate through your life?

Whatever we rehearse and practice, whatever we think of again and again, whatever we remember and pursue is what we are trying to incarnate. When we make a choice, we are practicing incarnation in our own lives. Whatever we bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven. What we choose to let loose in the world shall be let loose in Heaven (Matt. 18:18).

These things we try to bring to life through our personal choices contribute to that “who are we?” by their effects on our personal character. I contend that character is not the spontaneous unfolding of some latent potential within an individual. Rather, it is the unfolding of that individual’s potential together with familial and social influence and personal choice. Personal choice is the sine qua non of character development. From the perspective of cognitive psychology and recent developments in neuroscience, we know that repetition of any action builds neural pathways in the brain. When that action – a thought, a behavior as simple as singing a song, or reciting some piece of poetry – is repeated often enough, it creates what can be described as a neural superhighway in the brain.

All of our experience influences, to some degree, how we see the world and what we tell ourselves about future experience. Yet what influences us the most is not the experience itself, but what we tell ourselves about it. The rehearsal – and especially the repetition – of mental content and physical behavior has a way of shaping behavior and shaping thought. In effect we, to some degree, no longer see the world as it is, but as we have told ourselves it is.

In short, we create our own character. To borrow from religious metaphor, the guardian at the gate, the angel who stands over our future, is the one who watches us as we choose what to think, say, and do. Our choices build the launch pad into our life and our future.

Where you are right now, what you see, and what you are about to do is not an accident. It flows directly from the character that you have created by your choices. May you choose well. Your destiny lies within and before you.

Onward.

 


Allen Wood lives with his wife, Gio, at The Mount Community, a Bruderhof in Esopus, New York.

 

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