Awakening the “God – Spot” – A Sermon from Greyfriars, Edinburgh

Sunday 13th July 2014
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Awakening the “God – spot”
Genesis 25: 19 – 34; Matthew 13: 1 – 23

Jesus uses stories, or parables, to illustrate his message. In the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13: 1 – 23), he likens people’s response to his message to the soil in which seeds are cast. Seeds that are sown in fertile ground flourish whilst the seed sown on stony ground or amongst thorns will not. He goes on to quote the prophecy of Isaiah, “You will indeed listen but never understand, and you will indeed look and never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull and their ears hard of hearing and they have shut their eyes” But the prophet concludes with these words, “And I would heal them”. Jesus is saying that some people are receptive and some are not – at least not immediately. But I am intrigued that he should quote the promise that unreceptiveness can be healed. In other words, he is suggesting that he can soften stony hearts and help people to clear away the thorns and scrub that makes it hard for his message to take root.
I wonder if you have ever had your IQ tested. IQ stands for Intelligence Quotient, it is an intelligence test, in other words. Well, I had mine tested once and I am not prepared to share the results with you! I wonder, however, if you have ever heard of EQ or SQ testing? Probably not, but they stand for emotional intelligence and spiritual intelligence.
Neuro–science, that is the study of the human brain, is discovering that there are certain parts of our brains that appear to light up and become active when we ask questions about meaning or values, about, that is, emotion and spirit. In other words, when people have a conversation about spiritual things, certain parts of the brain become active. Some people have called this the “god-spot” in the human brain. It is not evidence about the existence of God. And, it is also clear that some people have a more active “god-spot” than others. The brain activity can be quite marked in some people but negligible in others.
Maybe this is a modern way of expressing what Jesus had in mind when he told his Parable of the Sower. Some people seem to “get it”, whilst others don’t. Some people are more neurologically programmed to have a spiritual or a values based conversation than others. Some of us are stony ground and others are fertile soil. Some of us listen with our hearts and others just cannot feel in the same way.
But there is this tantalizing tag on the end of Isaiah’s words, “And I would heal them”. Isaiah, whom Jesus quotes, says that, “this people’s heart has grown dull and their ears are hard of hearing and they have shut their eyes so that they might not look and listen with their ears and understand with their heart and turn – and I would heal them”.
Is it possible to awaken that inner organ that part of the brain that some call the “God-spot”; is it possible to heal it, to stimulate it and make it grow and develop?
T S Eliot wrote in his famous poem, the Four Quartets, “The end of all our exploring will be to find ourselves where we began and know the place for the first time”. I believe that sometimes it can take almost a lifetime, a long journey through the “ache of life” finally to be able to see with the heart and know what we have always known, but at a much deeper level. Sometimes it can take a great deal of experience to discover, in the words of the great American writer, Annie Dillard that, “I had been my whole life a bell and never knew it until at that moment I was lifted and struck”. (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Picador – 1974). It can take a lot of patient healing, mending and nurturing to get those neurological connections finally sparking and flaring into life.
Some people, it has to be said, have no difficulty at all with religious language or ideas. They seem get it straight away. Some people take religious statements quite literally whilst others struggle to make sense of them. The world is made up of all sorts of people, every one of us is unique. For many of us, it is the experience of life, the expense of love, the coming to terms with loss and pain and all the agonies as well as joys of life’s experience that finally awakens that inner organ of the spirit in us. It was the great composer Edward Elgar who said of Joan Sutherland, the opera singer, that she would be a great singer one day, when someone broke her heart.
We may be dull, hard of hearing and seemingly immune to the “still small voice” of the Divine calling out to us across the vastness of time and space. But it is just possible that we discover the person of God to be in us and through us, nearer to us than breathing and closer than our very pulse, so that when suddenly that inner organ or “god spot” awakens, it can come as a shock, like electricity. The place we thought we had known we come to know in a wholly different and deeper light. Equally, the encounter or awakening to the Divine might be through another person, a stranger, even, who becomes the Christ to us by their kindness, their understanding or their compassion and something is awakened deep within us that we had scarcely known was there.
“And I would heal them”, says Isaiah. We may be dull, hard of hearing or stony ground, but as we go on asking and experiencing, searching and loving and opening ourselves even at the risk of losing, that spirit, that is let loose on the world in Jesus, gently woos us, seeking to stir things that can, in some of us, lie dormant for most of our lives.
If we allow ourselves to grow by being vulnerable – by questioning – by doubting – by trusting our intuition – by embracing life, rather than shying away from it – we might begin to hear the music of the Universe, the affirming flame and current that warms and drives the world in the great cause of “yes” to life against the darkness of “no” that would tell us that life is “a tale told by an idiot” and the Universe nothing more than an accidental collision of particles.
And, loving against the odds, hoping against despair, living life against the temptation to give up, we come in our lives to be haunted, nourished and affirmed by one who was so full of life, so full of love, so full of energy that death itself could not hold him. Jesus of Nazareth. And this is the one who would heal us of our blindness, awaken our unfeeling hearts, get our neurones firing and turn the stony ground of our being into fertile soil, capable of love and light for the world.
The other lesson we heard read today was the story of the birth of Jacob (Genesis 25: 19 – 34). If ever you thought that the Bible and the people that God speaks through were all good, pious and holy people, the story of Jacob should tell you otherwise. Jacob was a true scoundrel of a man, an unscrupulous swindler, cad and thief. A twin, he is born clinging to his older brother Esau’s heel. What on earth is the symbolism of that?
Before long, Jacob cheats his brother out of his birth right and goes on dodging and weaving through life like a true vagabond, never settling in one place lest one of his enemies turns up to slit his throat in the night. Then, one day, those neurones start to fire in his brain. The “still small voice” of conscience has been working on him. In a dream he sees a stairway to heaven and calls the place holy ground. He wrestles with an unknown stranger by the Jabbok River and spends the rest of his life walking with a limp – more symbolism there, surely? Don’t we all carry the marks of life upon us, just like Jacob with his limp? And, eventually he seeks to be reconciled to the brother he has cheated. And this man becomes the father of a great nation, blessed by God. If there is hope for Jacob, there’s hope for the rest of us. There is light to be shone into the darkest of corners, hope to be kindled in the coldest of hearts.
The American poet, Jane Kenyon was diagnosed with leukaemia. At around the same time, her husband was also diagnosed with cancer. You might just imagine how horrible that must have felt, how close to despair they might have come. But this is what she wrote not long before she died, “There are things in this life we must endure which are all but unendurable, and yet, I feel that there is great goodness……How, when there could have been nothing, does it happen that there is love, kindness, beauty?”
Across the darkness of the world, in the midst of all its pain and loss and despair and seeming meaninglessness, an irrepressible instinct struggles to be born as people send their neurological messages to one another with their hearts. Christ, the healer supreme, by his life, his love and his compassion kindles in stony, unfertile hearts an affirming flame that declares that for all the bruising pain and ache of life, the last word is not despair, but love.