Dana, Paula, Stephanie, Randall, Chandler, Dan along with their families sat on rows six and seven last Sunday in Fort Worth, Texas. As I stepped into the pulpit of the church that gave me spiritual birth I looked out at the faces of those who had been in the youth group with me decades ago at University Chrisitan Church. Afterwards, we went to lunch and over tacos recalled the crazy stories and heartwarming memories that had shaped us forever.  I had not seen some of these friends since high school but we picked up in exactly the same place, and laughter and joy unfolded. Who would any of us have become without the cradle of that church? The core values, character traits, resilience, the social capital that has sustained us came from that dedicated congregation. We knew that we were loved beyond our biological families. Call that God or whatever you want, but I could see in retrospect that the church shapes human lives in profound and meaningful ways that may not be evident at the moment.

In her book, The Awakened Brain, medical research scientist Lisa Miller shares the discoveries of a major study that connected spirituality with positive mental health. She didn’t set out to study spirituality but in her research on human resilience, people kept telling her stories about spiritual experiences that helped them heal. So a study was conducted on depression. The researchers were stunned by the results. MRI’s revealed that folks with low levels of spiritual engagement actually had different neural images than those who reported high levels of spiritual engagement. Our brains actually look different and are healthier when we prioritize our faith. She calls the spiritual brain the “awakened brain.” Dr. Miller writes:

“The awakened brain includes a set of innate perceptual capacities that exist in every person through which we experience love and connection, unity, and a sense of guidance from and dialogue with life. And when we engage these perceptual capacities—when we make full use of how we’re built—our brains become structurally healthier and better connected, and we access unsurpassed psychological benefits: less depression, anxiety, and substance abuse; and more positive psychological traits such as grit, resilience, optimism, tenacity, and creativity.”

This past week our church staff toured the newly created children’s wing where our kids gather for Sunday School each week. It’s NOTHING like what you and I grew up with. So incredibly creative and engaging and the kids love it. It makes my heart soar knowing that we are shaping lives, awakening brains, and empowering our children with spiritual resilience that will sustain them for a lifetime.

Grace and Peace,