On December 10, 1996, a blood vessel exploded in the left half of neuroanatomist, Jill Bolte Taylor’s brain. She had the rare experience of observing her brain as her left hemisphere short circuited and eventually went completely off line. In the course of the 4 hours her brain was hemorrhaging she eventually could no longer walk, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life. She describes it as becoming an infant in a grown woman’s body.
The two hemispheres of our brain are distinct and separate entities that communicate with each other through 300,000,000 nerve fibers. They process information differently and Dr. Taylor says they think and care about different things and they have two different personalities. The right side of our brain is all about this present moment, right here right now. The right hemisphere thinks in pictures, learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies. Information in the form of energy comes streaming in all at the same time through all our of sensory systems and explodes into an enormous collage of what this present moment, looks, sounds, smells, feels and tastes like. We are all energy beings connected to the energy all around us by the consciousness of our right brain. We are one human family connected to the energy of each other through the consciousness of our right brain. We are brothers and sisters on this planet, and at this moment we are perfect, whole, and beautiful.
The left hemisphere thinks linearly, methodically and logically. It is all about past and future and is designed to take the details of that enormous collage, pick through all of them, our experiences, categorize and organize all of that information, associate it with all the stuff we have ever learned in the past and then projects into the future, all of our possibilities. The left hemisphere thinks in language, it’s the brain chatter we have come accustomed to. It connects our internal world to the external world. It is the calculating intelligence that tells me when I have to put gas in my car, go grocery shopping, or do laundry. But most importantly, Dr. Taylor says, it is the little voice that says I am. And when I say I am, I become separate from you. A solid, individual separate from the energy that surrounds me.
In Paul’s letter of encouragement and support for the church in Ephesus he says, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” “Spirit of wisdom and revelation, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, the immeasurable greatness of his power.” What does that mean for us, the people who gather together on Sundays, centuries later, calling ourselves church? How do we use that power, how do we see with the eyes of our heart? Have we put our wisdom and revelation to work?
Seeing with the eyes of our heart is a right brained activity. Asking God to give us the spirit of wisdom and revelation, that is a request, a prayer, that comes from our right brain. None of it is logical, practical, linear. It is the desire of our soul to be, what Dr. Taylor describes in her experience of herself as she was living from her right brain, free, enormous, expansive.
Two sides of the brain. Two groups. Two ways of being in the world. Left. right. Sheep, goats. Righteous, unrighteous.
Jesus is interested in who we are hanging out with. How are we spending our time? Serving God in the other, living out our faith, embodying the life of Christ means we have to be able to live from our right brain. Process theologian Bruce Epperly, says this parable of the sheep and goats touches on the idea of divine pathos. The notion, according to Rabbi Abraham Heschel, that God doesn’t just demand blind obedience, but God is moved and affected by what happens in the world and reacts accordingly. Events and human action arouse in God joy, sorrow, pleasure and pain. As Jesus says in this passage, when we care for the vulnerable, we are implicitly caring for God. Dr. Epperly says, God feels the pain of the vulnerable and the joy of their restoration to wholeness. Accordingly, we love the Creator by loving the creatures. There is no dichotomy between loving God and loving the world. If we love all things in God, we will love in helpful and healthy ways.
This isn’t a way of living that we can make sense of using our left brains. That we can come at methodically, linearly, logically. We can’t put this idea in alphabetical order and file it away in a nice, neat filing system. This idea of divine pathos, that God responds, is moved to joy, sorrow, pleasure, pain, that God is intimately involved in the details of our lives, it can only be felt and experienced through the consciousness of our right brain.
In the gospel reading this morning, Jesus says to the first group, for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ When did we do that they ask? The first group, the sheep ask. Jesus tells them, when you did it for the least of these you did for me.
And conversely, he accuses the other group of not doing any of those actions, and the second groups asks, when did we not recognize you, when did we not serve you. And Jesus says, when you walked past that person sleeping in the doorway so many times that you know longer recognized their humanity, that is when you know longer recognized me, served me, or cared for me.
Epperly goes on to say, there’s a lot of judgment for the second group’s complacency and lack of concern. And if we read pain in the response of the second group, Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ perhaps that pain of the second group involves recognizing missed opportunities to care for the vulnerable and contribute something of beauty to God’s experience. Maybe there will be some redemption from their pain of recognizing those missed opportunities and there will be restoration of their relationship with God and the vulnerable. Let’s hope so, because oftentimes its us who need to be redeemed. We need to be awakened to our lack of responsiveness to God in others in all areas of our lives.
Every moment of every day we have the choice to profess our faith by our action, we can live into the reign of God now, the creative-responsive love that is intimate, gives life to all things, is receptive, and responsive, “seeking to bring beauty out of life’s imperfection and ambiguity,” as Dr. Epperly says.
It took 8 years for Jill Bolte Taylor to fully recover. She lost all of her language, science, and math. She had to learn to talk, write, and read. What she gained was the up close and personal experience of nirvana, the feeling of the enormity of her spirit, and that her soul soared free. She says we can step to the right of our left hemisphere and find peace any time we want to. It’s always there, a part of us. When we step to the right of our left hemisphere, there is the risk of being aroused out of the complacency with which we see and experience the world, and into a way of being from which we can have a new and transformative experience of God, ourselves, each other and the world.
Two sides of the brain. Two groups. Two ways of being in the world. Left. right. Sheep, goats. Righteous, unrighteous. Who are we Dr. Taylor asks? We are the life force power of the universe with manual dexterity, power to choose who and how we want to be in the world, one with all that is, God, within and without. We are the spirit of wisdom and revelation. We have the capacity to see and serve, with the eyes of our enlightened hearts, the God in us all.