The Spirit Fires and Rewires Damaged Hearts and Brains

The Spirit Fires and Rewires Damaged Hearts and Brains May 24, 2021

Arhitectdanielheller, “Creation 2,” 2016 (from Daniel Heller’s creation series). The caption reads at the Wikimedia Commons page: “From the ‘Creation’ series depicting the creation of the universe inspired by verses from the book of Genesis: ‘Now the earth was unformed and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters'” (Genesis 1:2); Creative Commons.

There’s a saying that goes, “Neurons that fire together wire together.” We are hoping that for my son Christopher, who experienced a devastating brain injury in January. There is some scientific grounds for thinking and hoping in this way. According to a news release of a UCLA study a few years ago, “When the brain’s primary ‘learning center’ is damaged, complex new neural circuits arise to compensate for the lost function…” We are praying that such firing and rewiring takes place in my son’s case. May it be so, Lord.

I asked for prayer to this end at church yesterday. It was Pentecost Sunday. Pentecost Sunday marks the Spirit’s outpouring on Jesus’ people over 2,000 years ago (Acts 2). The Spirit fell upon Jesus’ community in Jerusalem with tongues of fire. The Apostles proclaimed God’s good news of new life through the risen Lord in the various languages of all the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles who had gathered from across the Roman Empire for the Jewish festival known as Shavuot. Shavuot marks the wheat harvest. As recounted in Acts 2, the Spirit brought about a great spiritual harvest in response to Peter’s message. Peter explained that what they were witnessing with the tongues of fire was the Spirit’s outpouring to lead them to new life through repentance and faith in the crucified and risen Jesus. In response, three thousand believed.

It is worth noting that what was witnessed at Pentecost is par for the course for the Spirit. Scripture, the creeds, and church liturgy portray the Spirit of God as “the Spirit of life.” Thus, it should be no surprise that the church often associates the color green with the Spirit in its iconic art. God works through the Spirit to create and recreate life. Going back to Genesis 1, we find the Spirit hovering over the waters at the beginning of creation. Similarly, the Spirit fell upon the people gathered at Pentecost, which marks the birth of the church. So, too, God will make all things new at the end of the age through the Spirit, who pours out the water of eternal life (Revelation 21:5-7; 22:17).

The Spirit brings about physical and spiritual life. The Spirit reconstructs our sense of self. The Spirit goes into our depths and recreates who we are. It is because of the Spirit that we can say, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17; NIV) The Christ, who is God’s Son, and the Spirit always work together as God’s two surgical hands, to play off St. Irenaeus’ “two hands” image.

The Spirit pours out tongues of fire, so that we can sing a new song, as well as the water of life to bring about a new creation. This same Spirit works creatively in natural and spiritual reality, which are only separate according to our finite and bifurcated way of looking at things. Here it is worth noting that the Season After Pentecost, also known as Ordinary Time, or Ordered Time, begins today—the day after Pentecost—and ends the day before Advent’s first Sunday. The word “after” does not mean the Spirit no longer operates in creation and history. To the contrary, the same Spirit at work in the creation and Jesus’ people in Genesis 1 and Acts 2 is continually at work in creation and the community of faith, as illustrated in chapters 3-28 of Acts, and foreshadowed in Revelation. The Spirit’s work never ends. Just as the Spirit hovered over the not-yet-ordered mass at the dawn of creation (Genesis 1:2), so the Spirit hovers over our disordered and even damaged mess to rewire the creation and our lives.

Like neurons firing and creating new pathways in the brain, I am forging analogical pathways between the spiritual and neurological spheres, where perhaps angels and neurologists fear to tread. Fortunately, our family medical consultant Dr. Robert Potter (M.D., Ph.D.) has been willing to tread in this domain. He has encouraged us to wait in prayer with hope to see how God may heal our son Christopher, who has a traumatic brain injury. Following a consultation that involved analysis of an MRI of the brain, he indicated that we are waiting to see whether new neurological pathways form and viable parts of the brain compensate and make up for parts of the brain that are no longer viable. While in no way offering predictions as to what will occur, Dr. Potter draws from a lengthy tenure of analysis and experience with palliative care patients in medical ethics to form such plausible scenarios. He also alluded to the same text quoted above, 2 Corinthians 5:17, and said that the Christopher, who may recover, would be the same person, yet reconstructed.

In the line of Jesus, who endured a devastating injury that actually killed him, yet who rose triumphantly with those now glorious scars, so I pray my son now devastated by his brain injury might rise anew. May he bear witness to God through his own glorious and healed wounds, as one “fearfully and wonderfully made” and remade. We are praying for the emergence of my son Christopher as a reconstructed person who comes to us anew through medicine and the miraculous, orderly operations of the Spirit during Ordinary Time.

Jesus encouraged his disciples to wait eagerly for the Spirit’s coming (Acts 1:4, 8). And so, I pray: “Come Holy Spirit, come.” I pray that the Spirit moves through the hands of nurses and aids, doctors, respiratory and physical therapists, wound care specialists, other rehabilitative care practitioners, and pharmacists, along with ongoing needed rest and medicine.

Last night, as Pentecost drew to a close, I prayed with one eye open, so to speak, at Christopher’s bedside. I noted to my wife and a CNA how Christopher’s eyes appear to open more often and rest on us more steadily. Last night, he also made his first audible groans in my presence.

May the Spirit of Pentecost continue to fall on us with tongues of fire, groaning within and interpreting our groans, ultimately leading us to sing a new song. May this same Spirit rewire Christopher’s devastated brain and heal my deeply damaged soul. Holy Spirit, come, and work your medicine of renewing, reconstructing, and transforming us all.

About Paul Louis Metzger
Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology & Culture, Multnomah University & Seminary; Director of The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins; and Author of numerous works, including The Word of Christ and the World of Culture: Sacred and Secular Through the Theology of Karl Barth (Eerdmans, 2003) and Setting the Spiritual Clock: Sacred Time Breaking Through the Secular Eclipse (Cascade, 2020). You can read more about the author here.
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