I learned an extremely simple thing at the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies: if there is a lot of something going on inside or between humans and you don’t understand it, you should pay attention until you do.
The biology committee of our Forum was pursuing the new knowledge “epigenetics.” The are curiousi about our 20,000 bits of DNA that are like toggles (or networks of toggles, technically). What turns them on and off? The answer is not found among those 20,000 codes but in the other 92% of biological stuff that science thought was filler, sort of like the bubble wrap that surrounds the CD from Amazon. That stuff is called the “non-coding” DNA and turns out to be the essence of adaptive humanness. It shapes the human dance at the molecular level. Before anyone even knows there is a dance, the embryo and mother begin to relate in ways that form one and transform the other. The big news is that the process is affected by emotions both positive and stressful. The science is so young, we are only dimmly aware of how this works even in the mother-child dyad. In this most intimate relationship, the dance is esquitely subtle.
What looks like a very precarious strategy works because it is radicaly social. The child that survives is the one with the best, which is to say loving, …..mom. And the mom that loves best is the one with the best, which is to say loving….mate and they with the most fiercely loving famly, friends and neighbors. That works. And what turns on the choices that make that all go?
Some talk of the “sychronous mind” that may function at the level of groups and even community. “Better than Conscious” is an MIT Press book that came from a 2008 Strungmann Forum. Since then many are exploring how synchrony and choice emerge in groups, often with music, rythm, shared meaning and something like ritual. Sounds like Black Church to me, although it will be several hundred years before one of them allows Yale scientists to hook them up to machines to map their popping peptides and whizzing electrons.
Most religion doesn’t look nearly as useful as non-coding DNA even before it turned out to be epigenetically active. Much is harmless piddle, which is still better than the flamingly stupid fear all religions are capable of fomenting at the most unhelpful times. Still, at the core of every faith that has lasted for more than a couple generations are rituals, songs, practices, norms and celebrations that enourage the wonder of love alive again. The survival of the species does not depend on preaching, thank god. But everywhere you look in humanity, you’ll find spirit. We should pay much closer attention to how it works for birth, growth and thriving of the Whole.
Quit staring at the the pulpit where it is mostly still men acting like boys. Look to the womens’ groups that replicate life and healing practices generation after generation. They do –and could do more– organizing themselves around the social structures of faith. (This is how I see Parish, or Faith Community, Nurses, not as a kind of extention of the hospital.) Think of the pulpits as the coding DNA and the women’s groups as the 92% around it –the epi-faith that governs the expression of the formal codes. And be thankful that the predictable gender patterns are changing–more women in the pulpits, more men giving care: better codes, more care. Maybe just in time, too.
This is from the back of the church Rev. Renate Cochrane pastors in Gottenfingen where I spent a couple days after the Frankfurt Forum. The church has gathered on exactly that spot since 1513, so they should know something. Four hundred and fifty people now live around the church and know its care. Like the mothers’ epigenetic affect it is not one thing, communion or the sermon, but the whole thing across the whole life and the generations.
What if those of us of faith and in positions to influence its expression and practice took our role as seriously as any pregnant woman does naturally? What if felt that our work was crucial to the expression of wisdom the cultural DNA makes possible?