Becoming Ill, Becoming Well by Craig Rennebohm

written by Craig Rennebohm

Alfred North Whitehead images the spirit moving through the “interstices of the brain.” The brain is far from a solid thing. Beneath the skull are hundreds of billions of cells in a rich sea of chemical soup. Cells range from simple in composition and shape to highly complex in form and function. No cell actually touches another. We are not hard wired; information from the eyes, the ears, the nose, the mouth, the skin do not travel along lines or cords to solid-state machinery that produce feelings and thoughts. The brain is not a computer.

Each brain cell has a nucleus of atoms and molecules, in a kind of bubble with two tubes, one bringing in waves of energy to be processed and another to send that energy along with a miniscule touch of new movement and shape. A feeling is the result of millions of cells, especially in the amygdala area of the brain, beginning to pulse together in common, connecting to stored memories of similar moments and mobilizing the stomach, the muscles, positioning the body, triggering thoughts.

A mood is a persistent pattern of feeling, repeating of allied cognitions, ideas pulsing in the upper regions of the brain, permeating our lives hour after hour, day after day. If, as in depression, the chemistry of brain cells key to our hopefulness, motivation, enjoyment, creativity and trust, slows or comes to a near stop, if we are depleted of serotonins and other messenger molecules, and the nuclei of millions of cells begin to sputter and misfire, when billions times billions of cells lose general and usual communication with one another, we become ill; just as we become ill when any other part of our body is broken, dis-eased, malfunctioning. If, as in an episode of bi-polar disorder, the chemistry of the brain is abnormally heightened, cells are powerfully amplified and excited in their activity, giving rise to unbounded energy, feelings of euphoria, racing and grandiose thoughts, we are ill, but with almost opposite symptoms. If it is the chemistry of those areas of the brain, the immensely complicate clusters of cells that constitute to our capacity to perceive the world, think and imagine, we may begin to experience hallucinations or delusions, seeing things that are not there, or have ideas that seem true, but make no sense to anyone else. We may become ill, signaled by symptoms of schizophrenia. We may alter our brains with alcohol or drugs, becoming ill by the infusion of chemicals that can become quickly toxic, profoundly disturbing or destroying brain cells and the delicate informational neuronal processes core to our human, earthly life.

The Spirit moves deeply within us to birth, organize and maintain health. The Spirit cares at the most intimate levels for the well being of our brains. The Spirit moves in the space between us opening our hearts to one another, making possible the gifts of sympathy, empathy and compassion, inviting us into sacred companionship to help bear one another’s burdens and share our journeys of healing and growth. The Spirit joins us from and with a vast and infinite universe, an ultimate ocean of energy, promise and love in which all shall be well and all shall be well. 

More to come.
Craig Rennebohm is a retired UCC Minister and author of Souls in the Hands of a Tender God (Beacon Press), written from his own experience and 25 years of ministry doing outreach on the streets of Seattle with individuals facing homeless and mental health challenges. Craig is currently a member of the Port Townsend Friends Meeting and exploring the world of poetry.

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