And the Greatest of these is Love

Scripture says that Our bodies are beautifully and wonderfully made. The Human body is composed of tens of trillions of cells and each one of our cells contains our DNA. Our DNA houses more than 3 billion base pairs of encoded information.  If that’s not cool enough, the human brain has 100 billion neurons which have the ability to make an infinite number of connections.  Remember last week, we learned 2 things about the brain. First, through neuroplasticity we have the ability to change the brain from the time we are born until the time we breathe our last breath.  Even as we get older, new connections can be made.  Second, as the brain makes connections, the more that pathway is travelled, the more it wires together.  So, when we develop a practice that helps us embody a sense of love, it might feel really difficult at first, but then over time, the response to the practice becomes more automatic.

Our bodies are the instruments that we tune over the course of a lifetime. Now, most processes go on without our even noticing…our body breathes, works to regulate our temperature, digests our food, and is watchful for any stimuli that might be threatening.

Bryan Spoon in his book Neuroscience and the Fruit of the spirit writes, “Our body is the greatest resource we have. It is the only real resource we will ever know or by which we will ever know anything else.”  Pg 19 

What he means is that everything that happens to us in this life is experienced and interpreted by our bodies. For some people it is really hard to know what we are feeling in any given moment, but the body tells us how it is feeling so if we pay attention, we are being given clues about our experience.  In paying attention to the instrument of our bodies we have the ability to recognize when we are experiencing the fruit of the spirit or when we are needing something because we are not experiencing the fruit of the spirit. Paying attention also helps us become less reactive when we notice patterns in our lives that are more harmful.  For example, I notice with my son that we have developed a habit..or a pattern of the way we relate to each other.  When I need him to do something, I ask him nicely to do something like put away his clothes. He answers back that yes he will put away his clothes in 5 min after he finishes a video that he is watching on his phone.  I say Great!  And I go and set the timer.  After 4 min, I remind him that he has 1 minute to put whatever he is doing away and follow through with the task that I need for him to do.  He says great…just give me 1 min.  After 1 min is up, I gently remind him that he needs to get to work. He says Ok, let me go to the bathroom which is another stalling technique. I say that is fine but you need to bring me your phone first. He throws a fit and I go over to take his phone away. He wrestles with me and I get really angry. Yelling happens and then he looks at me and says, “What is wrong with you, mom?!”  This pattern repeats all too often.  And now I can feel how nicely I ask him the first 3 times and how by the 4th time, my blood is starting to boil.

This type of paying attention gives me the power to observe how I go from nice to nasty in a matter of 10 min and it gives me power to change things.  In this example, I recognize that I do not want to get to the yelling stage so most of the time, peyton does not get his phone or whatever it is he wants to do until he has completed his chores.  This way we avoid a meltdown for both of us.  But if I find myself in this moment again, I can observe that WOW, this is happening again to me…I can name how I am feeling angry, unloved, disrespected which is activating my Sympathetic Nervous System. And in those brief minutes I can go sit by him and breathe to engage the parasympathetic nervous system which helps me calm down, experience bonding in community, and find rest.

Dr. Alane Daugherty in her book from Mindfulness to Heartfulness writes, “Our human body is the instrument through which we experience life, and the instrument through which transformations are continually taking place.”[1]

Last week, I shared that our people are crying out to find ways to be their best self and unbecome anything that is holding them back from living the life God created them to live…If this is true and if our bodies are the instruments God gave us to experience this life, then we must reimagine a way to engage the body in our spiritual practices.  Jesus talked about it like this…he said I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will bear much fruit. As Christians, we are called to experience being one with the The Divine and the natural result of this oneness is that we bear fruit.  The fruit that we are talking about comes from Galations 5:22 where paul writes, “22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

We are privileged to live in a day and time where new discoveries in neuroscience help us understand that our heart, mind, and body are profoundly affected when they are flooded with feelings of love, joy, peace. Now that we have this intellectual knowledge, we are invited to explore what it feels like in our bodies to experience the fruit.  We need to be able to describe what having a sense of joy or peace feels like in an embodied way so that we can recommend to our friends that what they are looking for….we have found.  This is an essential piece to the Good News Jesus came to preach.

In our scripture for today, Matthew 22:37-40  orients us to the greatest of the fruit of the spirit.  The question was asked, “Teacher which commandment in the law is the greatest. Jesus responds, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first commandment. And a second is like it You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

When Jesus says, Love the lord with all your heart, soul and mind, what he is saying is love God with your very suchness…your very being. What is fascinating is that Jesus starts with the heart or the seatbed of the emotions or some would say it is the place of your will.  This is interesting because we now know that your heart is more powerful than your brain.

It used to be thought that the heart was only a pump that delivers blood to different parts of the body, but now we have new research in the field of Neurocardiology that tells us that the heart has a powerful impact on our own bodies and on other people.  Andrea S. Cohen writes that the heart has approximately 40,000 neural cells—the kind that we used to think existed only in the brain. That means that 60-65% of the heart’s cells are neural cells. Research tells us that the heart sends many more messages to the brain than the brain sends to the heart![2]

When we experience feelings of love, our heart rhythms shift and direct new electromagnetic impulses to our brain. And then our brain sends chemical and hormonal outputs all over the body. So our heart impacts our body’s well-being!

What is even more cool is that the heart’s electromagnetic field is several thousand times more powerful than the brain’s electromagnetic field, and it expands at least six to eight feet beyond our body. So when we shift our own physiology to embody love and compassion, this change in ourselves affects all those around us.

So in a moment, I am going to ask that you extend loving kindness to our new elder as she is being installed today. But before we do that let us get our heart, mind and body oriented to a sense of love so that our new elder will sense a profound impact as you extend your love to her.

I will guide us through a meditation on love.  Our minds are amazing tools.  One thing that the mind cannot distinguish is if something is happening right now or if you are reliving a memory or if you are watching a movie. So, we can use this to place ourselves in moments that are beautiful, loving, kind and gentle so that our bodies sense these good feelings as if they are happening right now.

Get into a comfortable seated position.  If your legs are cross, gently uncross them and feel the feet on the floor.  Soften your shoulders and release your tongue down from the roof of your mouth.  Soften all the muscles around your eyes and slowly close them.  Now, bring to mind a time when you felt loved.  Savor the images that come to mind, the sounds, the people, the tastes, smells, if there is a sense of touch. Relive this experience.  Now, imagine that this love you are feeling is a color.  See this color flowing between you and the experience that you are imagining.  Now with every breath, see your body fill with this color. On your next inhale, breathe in your color of love and imagine that this color fills you up from your feet to your hips.  Now, soften in this sensation of love.  Inhale the color of love and imagine that it fills your body from your hips to your shoulders.  Now, rest in love.  Inhale the color of love and imagine that it fills your body from your shoulders to the very tip top of your head. Now, be in love.  Take the next few breaths to feel your entire body filled with love. Notice the sensations. Enjoy the experience. 

[1] Dr. Alane Daugherty, From Mindfulness to Heartfulness: A Journey of transformation through the Science of embodiment (Bloomington: Balboa Press, 2014), 73.

[2] Andrea S. Cohen, Practicing the Art of Compassionate Listening (2017), 34-35.

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