Where Is Your Brain?

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  I engage every week in an activity regarded perhaps by some as a brainless, pointless waste of time. The crazy thing I do is to stand with my wife for the Divine Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox church, a brain waste surely, some might say, when instead, conceivably, I could be involved in the many brain enriching activities that the rest of the population enjoys on Sunday mornings!

 Surely, the absent masses are filling their brains every Sunday morning with terribly worthwhile things. (Do you think?)

 Well, based on what I have observed, the alternatives they’ve discovered aren’t especially impressive. For it's all too likely that the Sunday morning absentees have found all kinds of ways to locate their brains in various vats, (various forms of what is pictured above) as in, for instance, the donning after breakfast on the part of millions of a Minecraft headset, through which one can build his own virtual world, filled with landscapes, buildings, monsters, as someone has exclaimed, “anything you can imagine.”  

 "Sure beats church!" one of these mind-enclosed, lamebrains might exclaim.

 But of course it’s an illusion of life that’s been chosen, and not real life.

 Real life? Well, who wants that? For an authentic life involves unpleasant things like effort, (in my case, a forty minute drive to church) struggle, discipline and the discernment as to where best to focus the power of one's brain. 

 Freud indicted religion as an illusion to be overcome. Granting that Freud had a point about the sicker side of religion sometimes on display, surely in every area of life it appears that without any reference to religion at all, people are well practiced experts, are indeed, endlessly creative, when it comes to entertaining themselves by illusory pursuits, finding all kinds of ways to ensure that they keep living like bubble heads. 

 The pattern is fun, then depression, fun, then depression, repeated over and over and over...

 It’s not religion that keeps us from reality, but our own poor and often repeated choices to direct our brain power towards illusions to live in

 The choice is made deliberately to place one's brain in a vat of some kind.

 The dedication to self amusement knows no bounds, as one readily chooses to lay aside, not all earthly cares, in an effort to direct one’s attention to heavenly things, but to shut off the power of the brain, through the pursuit of the diversions and distractions featured by a virtual reality game.

 Which is why Socrates went around asking people to examine their lives. He was encouraging a way of life that constantly engages in the practice of self inquiry.

 One should therefore as a way of life ask: Will this choice, this activity, this path, lead to brain filling wisdom and joy?

 Or, am I choosing the foolish way - the easy way, the broad way, the way of the crowd, of the sheep, the way of momentary pleasure, which is inevitably followed by the dissipation of brain power and good sense, leaving one with a sense of regret and emptiness? (ie. the way of V.R.)

 To stay in my life, on the other hand, instead of opting out of it through an escape into an illusory world, I need to ask continually: Is what I am about to do, going to raise me up, or take me down? 

 Am I presently on the path towards transfiguration into the likeness of Christ or moving brainlessly, towards some kind of eventual disintegration and collapse? 

 Is my life moving towards transfiguration or disfiguration?

 The life which is not thought about, (unexamined) tends to be but an uncoordinated sequence of passing experiences, without any sense of purpose to tie it all up.

 Someone says for instance: “We went here and did that. Then we went there and did that!” Well, did you now? So what? Who cares? What is it about? Where is it leading?

 Our aim, as philosopher, Daniel N. Robinson, says, interpreting Socrates, should be to study the life we are living and to refine it through continual self-criticism: "For it to be a worthy life, the experiences themselves have to have validity. They have to have truthfulness about them.

 “Otherwise (get this!) we are living the life of one in a drunken stupor, one chained in the bowels of a cave, one afloat as a brain in a vat.” (D.N. Robinson, The Examined Life, The Great Ideas of Philosophy, The Great Courses p. 106)

 Nevertheless, as I explore here the danger of brain damage through the pursuit of the illusory, there are moments when I wonder what the regular church attendance has accomplished.

 Sometimes, human as I am, I wonder whether, like James Stewart, in It’s A Wonderful Life, my presence has made any difference and matters to anyone.

 I was feeling a little that way recently, a little disconnected, as I sat after church in the sanctuary by myself. I didn’t feel like moving. I actually was feeling somewhat sick for some unknown reason. 

 Yet I also felt that this was a good place to sit - to look over at the icons and to pray. 

 I felt it best on this day not to socialize. 

 Yet within minutes, the father of one of my godchildren, came to sit with me. I felt an immediate sense of shared affection and respect. 

 But it has taken several years for us to bond as spiritual brothers. That vital connection with him and his family alone feels worth all the time and effort.

 A few minutes later, a group began to gather in the sanctuary and I didn’t know why.

 I soon learned that they were there because a young woman, someone I know and hold dear, had just lost her first child through a miscarriage. 

 I remember when she told me she was pregnant. I was so thrilled to hear the news. She, who had always been caring for other people’s children, was  to have her own little one!   

 But now she was standing with her husband, surrounded by people who love them both, praying for her baby, who left our world prematurely.

 After the service, feeling that words were inappropriate, I hugged both husband and wife. And I found that I could barely do that without weeping. I was surprised to be so overcome by emotion. 

 Just a few minutes before, I had been feeling a little disconnected and now I was connected, big-time!

 Surely, I thought, this is indeed the place to be. I would not want to be anywhere else. 

 After that, I sat down again to then observe five young women form a circle. Each of them, I knew, had lost their babies through miscarriages during the past year. 

 Several minutes after the circle had disbanded, I learned that one of these young women has suffered five miscarriages, but is now carrying a child, who, all being well, will make it into the world.

 Not long ago, one of the five young women, had shared with me that when she experienced the Orthodox service for the loss of a child, that she had cried from beginning to end.

 She had been surprised at her level of grief, for she had mistakenly thought that she had worked through the grief. Friends, who like her, had suffered miscarriages, had shared that they’d been able successfully to work through their grief.

 Now she knew that neither she or her friends had sufficiently worked through anything.

 Our conclusion together was that these ancient church practices exist to take care of us better than we know how to take care of ourselves!

 All of which leads me to celebrate a deep sense of belonging with a group of people who gather week by week for worship and fellowship.

 The specific point of these reflections? To encourage the placing of one's brain not in a vat, but in a sanctuary

 “Look to Him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.” (Ps 34:5 ESV)

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