The Sensation of Prayer
I’ve learned a new word: synesthesia. By definition, it’s a “union of the senses.” Wikipedia calls it “a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway.” Synesthetes have a common brain pathway for more than one sensation. They see sounds, hear a movement or colorize numbers. They may attach spacial perception to time frames. By some estimates, one in 23 people may experience this kind of sensation. It’s just the way they/we’re wired.
I used to be fascinated by studies of the regions of the brain – in the old days we could only look from the outside – where they’d stick an electrode into a portion of the brain and the patient would experience sensation from that region. They would hear sounds if the auditory area was stimulation. They would remember things if a memory region was tapped. It’s how we “mapped” the brain.
Now we can look inside the brain and actually see the pathways and what activates them. What lights up when you move, think, pray. And what doesn’t. It takes out the guesswork. Until you’ve got pathways that run together and get things mixed up. The synesthetes.
Full confession: I see things when I pray. I see a complete picture, but there’s no sound. I don’t think there is color – though now I’ll have to pay more attention. I see the critically injured young woman standing before the throne. I see the prideful woman, trying to scale the castle wall.
On occasion I feel things when I pray. Emotions, yes, but also tactile sensations. warmth. softness. compression. falling.
I used to think I was weird, but maybe it’s just that my visual and kinesthetic tracks are running together with my prayer tracks. This may be my native anatomy. When I pray for another, I see and feel their “circumstance” in the presence of the one who attends to my prayers.
This also animates my own prayers. I see myself in the midst of these shenanigans. Yesterday, faced with an endless row of teeter totters all lined up across my path one after another, I was leaping from one to the next, attempting to land exactly in the center to keep from being thrown off balance.
The day before I hovered before an infinite number of chess games, God playing a human on each board. I wondered whether there could be a split second in any game that His attention might waver allowing one human to falter or fall out of God’s will. I guess true omnipresence prevents this, but still, one wonders.
True. All of this sounds like dreaming. All of it appears as imagining. But could it be that God has designed my sensory pathways to accommodate prayer?
It’s probably just a matter of time until we invent a device to track prayers in the brain. I’ll be interested to know their origin and their destination. Do they begin with me and end with God? Do they begin with God and end with me? Or is there a rapid relay race being run back and forth along the track?
For now I am content to see them and feel them. It’s the sensation of prayer for me. Seeing hurt, hurts me. I have to turn away. Imagine how our hurting one another must hurt the One to whom we pray.