The Neurology of the Spiritual Life

St. Augustine says, "The increase of charity is the decrease of passion,and the perfection of charity is the absence of passion."

Neurologically speaking, the more charity a person experiences, the more at peace will be his limbic system, enabling growth in his anterior cingulate which increases his capacity for charity and facilitates communication between his intellect and will, bringing his passions into line more and more easily. When the child's lower nature is quieted in appropriate ways, rather than becoming  suppressed through deprivation (to which injury is usually added insult when parents punish the child for not being happy and accepting about being deprived!), then the child can focus his energy and attention on developing his higher nature--his intellect and virtue. The more communication between his intellect and will and the greater his capacity for charity, the greater and greater is his capacity to embrace suffering.

A child needs two things from his parents to be successful (besides the obvious!)--to be healthy, happy and holy.  He needs security, which is the same as faith, hope and charity. And he needs direction--orientation, toward what is right, and true and good.  Direction without faith is impotent, and faith without direction is lost--this is just another way of saying good works without (faith, hope and) charity are empty--they merit nothing; and faith without good works is dead.

Until the child has the opportunity for his anterior cingulate to develop, through secure attachment, he is a slave to his passion and will remain so.  He does not have full use of his free will--a function of the  intellect--and cannot be held entirely responsible for his actions, anymore than an unskilled rider can be held responsible for the wild rompings of an untrained horse. But the way to train the horse is not to starve it or beat it into submission. Any horse treated thus can only go so far so fast and only when threatened by the rider. But a horse who trusts his rider and whose rider communicates to him gently and patiently, calming his fears, will trustingly orient toward his rider and happily do his bidding.

Secure attachment has to happen in the brain, between the intellect and passions, even as it happens in the parent/child relationship--or rather, it is the security provided by the parent (unconditional love), and the direction of the parent's good example, that makes possible the secure attachment between intellect and passions and the healthy development of the brain and the spiritual life.

All human beings are obedient to someone/thing. We all follow the direction of that which we trust--whether it's ourselves, the media (world), God, etc.  But obedience which is a virtue springs from charity like all other
virtues--not from servile fear, which, as the Church has always taught and as is now confirmed through the study of the brain, stunts the growth of charity. When we communicate to our children God's unconditional love and acceptance, they will naturally orient toward us, like a flower does to the sun. They will want to obey us, because they trust us and know that we love them and have their best interest at heart. (This doesn't mean that they will always succeed at obeying us--they are weak just like we are and equally incapable of embracing a Cross that is too big for them. These times should serve to remind parent and child of our ultimate and utter dependence on God, and help us to grow in humility and patience.) If I'm not mistaken, this is how God uses His children, the members of His Mystical Body, as instruments through which, as well as through the sacraments, He communicates His life and His love which is sanctifying grace. When we radiate Christ to our children they will be drawn to Him like moths to the light--this is the meaning of the Canticle, "Draw me, we shall run in the odor of your ointments." I believe, too, that this is the overarching message of Pope John Paul's Theology of the Body--even of his whole pontificate!

In order for parents to do this they must first allow themselves to be drawn, which consists simply of a total surrender of self to Christ--a kind of spiritual marriage. This is why contemplative parenting is so mutually
sanctifying for the spouses, as partners in parenthood, and their children.

The reason we call this contemplative parenting, is because the brain is stimulated in the same way as in contemplation by resonant relationships, which is what kind of relationships the principles of attachment parenting afford the family. In contemplation as well as in securely attached relationships there is a sense of the presence of the other, or feeling felt by the other--it is the sense of the Presence of God in Himself and in one another. This is a Trinitarian relationship in its fullness. This is how, through Christ centered relationships, we are drawn into the life of the Blessed Trinity and how all those we love are drawn with us, "like a torrent in the ocean."~~St. Therese of Lisieux


Rebecca said...

This is a wonderful post and convicts me deeply on the way I interact with my children, how I discipline them; all of my failings as a mother. I am amazed how far I've come in my patience with them and my understand that it is that we are not to threaten or punish them in such ways that cause them to be afraid of us and only obey out of that fear. It is something I am still working on, however; and my husband has far to go as well!
Thank you for your insight!

Evelyn said...

I just discovered your blog and I love it. This post sheds some light on something that I have been wondering if I am troubled by. My 4th child out of 6 was severely brain damaged by an unknown virus at 24 days old. She will never walk, talk, see, or eat by mouth. This has left her father and I very blah. We aren't shocked by tragedies or excited about activities. We don't feel depressed. We do feel that life is in God's control and this is a fallen world world.

Perhaps our lack of passion is due to the enormous amount of charity involved in our daily lives. I'd like to think this is a good thing. Thanks.

Catholic Attachment Parenting

A philosophy of parenting modeled after the self-donative love exemplified in the relationship between Mary and Jesus.

1 Jn 4:18

"There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love."

Luke 1:17

" turn the hearts of the parents toward their children..."