There aren’t that many texts available that combine study of the human brain and a theology of worship. That’s what’s so intriguing about Christopher Rodkey’s latest release The Synaptic Gospel: Teaching the Brain to Worship. Rodkey’s first chapters succinctly explain what, for me, is a most interesting subject: how the brain learns.
While the terminology is technical and academic (a testament to Rodkey’s thorough study of neuroscience) the content is not overwhelming to interested readers who will find Rodkey’s key conclusions both enlightening and challenging. While it is suggested in the foreword that readers who are either uninterested in or burdened by the terminology in the foundational chapters skip ahead to read the conclusions first, I recommend not doing so. The payoff is worth it. Deducing that ritual is a process of habituation is not altogether that hard. But greater understanding of the implications of such a deduction is gained when the science behind it is fully understood before it is applied to contextual situations such as parish ministry.
Rodkey’s thesis that liturgical living is a substantive means of religious habituation (that is, religious education or religious learning) is not altogether new. It seems to me to be a variation on Groome’s understanding of shared praxis. However, any similarity to Groome’s text ends at the thesis. This is not a book about religious education in the classroom, per se; it is a book about a way of life and a way of ministry that creates an environment for ontological learning (discipleship). If we take this text seriously, as I think we should, we will strive for greater use of meaningful and creative ritual in the practice of ministry, particularly in our ministries with adolescents. We will begin to see the identity-shaping, meaning-making nature of our congregations in a new light. Hopefully we will be prompted to take the implications of being identity-shaping, meaning-making communities more seriously.