Memorizing Scripture and Neuro-Science

Psalm 1 serves as a guiding framework for Be A Tree.  The imagery of the wicked as chaff blown by the wind is contrasted with the righteous who is a massive fruitful tree planted by the streams of water.  Let’s look at the contrasting images through the lens of where we get our dopamine and delight and nutrition for our souls.

The Blessed righteous remove themselves from forming themselves with the wicked, sinners and scoffers (vs 1) and replace that with a meditation and even delight in God’s word.   It is actually possible to get dopamine from God’s word.  This is why the Bible comes to us not primarily in abstraction and theological dogma but in poetry and narrative and with vivid and evocative (even sensual) imagery.  This Godly dopamine seeking may be what is happening neurologically in Psalm 1 when it says “but his delight is in the law of the Lord.”  

As one professor I heard said “If you are an American you are an addict…you are addicted to something…sugar, your smartphone, youtube etc.”  The book Dopamine Nation shows us that these same things are creating addictions to things that leave us more and more empty…more and more like chaff.  Addiction recovery guidance informs us that we should recover from harmful addictions not by ignoring our need for dopamine but by turning to healthier places for that dopamine.

Let’s follow the neuroscience a little further to get a clearer picture of the formation destinations we are looking for when we approach God’s word.   Language of “delight” looked on through a 21st century lens of neurobiology likely includes dopamine and pleasure but also moves to what my friend Richard calls “the good stuff” that is oxytocin.  Oxytocin brings a sense of well being after meaningful relational connections like an unhurried hangout with a close friend or a long hug from your spouse.  This sort of relational well being is given to us as a common grace.  Sting’s lyric “I hope the Russians love their children too” is answered in the affirmative.  They do.  But this common grace of relational closeness is something God wants to give us in a special way in our life with him too.  Part of this is drawing closer relationally out of our atomized lives and into more meaningful Christian fellowship and ideally this project of discipleship will be happening with regular one on one and small group in person gathering.  We can also achieve to varying degrees what the Christian mystics did where relational intimacy with God directly.  Meditation on scripture is actually a prayerful and relationally intimate experience of God directly in his word.  As the mystics experienced the potential result is something so great as to make marriage and sex actually feel like the shadow that it is...a shadow of “the good stuff.”

The third hormone affected in the formation process affects cortisol…in this case a lowering of the level that parallels true rest and relief.  It is important to experience relief because of salvation and that is played out concretely in rest.  Meditative rest is the prescription (actively meditating as we rest) as is Biblically informed rest and play (not even thinking about the Bible consciously but resting and playing not as a secular therapy but as celebration of the truths we have been learning through memorization and meditation).  

Follow this thread to read more about neuro-science and discipleship