Several months ago I attended the Mormon Women Project Salon Event, at which I heard Tina Peterson speak. The title for her breakout session was, “Becoming a Deliberate Student of the Gospel.” Tina has a degree in Near Eastern Studies and has studied the Old and New Testament in their original languages from multiple sources including the Dead Sea Scrolls.
“That’s where you need to be,” I said to myself. So I chose her class. And by the end of the evening, it was Tina’s words that stayed with me most. They hung in my mind for weeks. She so revolutionized my study and thinking that, with her permission, I share what she taught here.
Tina first talked about the mechanics of effective scripture study. They were the standard “should-dos” until she got to #4.
- Pray before you begin.
- Read, cross-reference, immerse yourself in the texts.
- Keep a notepad and pencil near you. Write down every impression that comes to you, without dismissing thoughts that may seem random or out of context.
- Over time, look back at what you have written and search for patterns. Trends and themes will emerge. You will see what the Holy Ghost is trying to teach you.
Wow, I thought. I jot down notes, scribble in the margins, underline in various colors, but looking for patterns, themes, and messages over time? That hadn’t occurred to me.
Then Tina got serious, because we were short on time, and she said, “Now I’m going to tell you what I feel strongly you need to hear.” We were listening.
“The battle today, between Babylon and Zion, is being waged between the synapses of our brains.”
(I’m no neurologist, but I’ve had enough physiology to know that synapses are how our brains process messages. They are crucial to the biological computation of perception and thought.)
Tina explained that in this information age when messages, images, and information are coming at us almost faster than we can receive them, our brains are creating new neural pathways to accommodate the input. The first time we see an image on a screen (we’re not talking about pornography here, although it does apply) – like a blog page, a news feed, texts, or facebook – our brain creates a new neural pathway to process that image. It is the same with new sounds or any stimuli to the senses, but let’s use the visual image for this discussion.
Input always travels the path of least resistance. So the second time we see the new image, it will travel the same route. And before long, the new neural pathway has been stimulated enough to “desire” of itself continued activation. A habit is born.
After that, when the brain is not currently occupied, we long for that image. That is why we constantly check our phones or email. That is why, when we have a free moment, we click onto a favorite blog, check facebook, and tweets, or any other source of input we frequent. Without realizing it, we have begun to crave these places of input, hunger for them, to the point where they can surreptitiously dominate our time.
Tina said the only way to counterbalance this is with ancient and modern scripture. We must expose our brains repeatedly to the image or sound of God’s words. Printed, glowing on the page, read aloud, or discussed with friends. That is where God’s Spirit lives. It is where His mind and will can rise out of the texts we read or the conversations we share, and filter into our lives, allowing revelation to move through us.
Satan knows the physiology of the brain. He knows if he can encourage overstimulation through an overload of mundane or technical information, he can increase the odds that we will not seek more spiritual sources for input, thus making scripture study tedious.
Recent studies have also shown that when our minds are over-stimulated, we begin to make decisions without considering the consequences. Much of the time, these quick decisions are not the best ones for us. An abundance of “information” prompts reactionary responses and elevates feelings of anxiety. All of this distracts us from the peace the Lord offers through His Word, and deprives us of much needed pondering time – time when our minds can reinforce more spiritual pathways.
Then Tina said this,
“Your time with the word of the Lord is your personal Urim and Thummim. It is there that God will speak to you. Frequent the scriptures often enough that your brain craves that kind of input – that your day feels incomplete without it.”
Have you been there? That place of truly feasting on God’s word? I have. And I’m sure you have too. I love how Jeremiah describes it.
“Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart” (Jeremiah 15:16).
I have also been in that place where I don’t crave the scriptures, because my reading is sporadic, even neglectful. And in retrospect, I can see I have filled my precious time with things that matter much less.
After hearing Tina talk, I realized I can’t afford to neglect my time in the scriptures. I can’t risk being a voice to my children, my friends, or the Relief Society sisters I teach, if I am not partaking regularly of God’s word. Time with the word of the Lord is its own system of checks and balances for me. It’s how the Lord rights me, keeps me on course.
Naturally, the sources of input mentioned here are not bad things. But Tina’s words have helped me make a conscious effort to open my scriptures each day before computer time, reading any other book, or another leisurely activity. I have started recording impressions. And it is astounding the level of happy confidence I have felt. I am still working on the habit, but I’m getting better at hearing as I go. “The words of the Lord are pure words, said the Psalmist, and I am discovering that within them we can see things “as they really are and as they really will be” (Jacob 4:13).
What about you? How is your scripture study going? What do you think of this battle in the brain?