In Robert Farrar Capon’s stunning book, Between Noon and Three, he explores the Biblical idea of grace – the outlandishness of it and how difficult it is for us creatures – who want to think of ourselves as more powerful and self-determinative than we really are – to actually accept it – that we are saved by the grace of God and not by any of our own merit. He also challenges the reader with the practical implications of grace in our everyday lives. He says a lot about it, and it is all worth reading, but he puts the final, ultimate point on it with this question: What would you do with freedom if you had it?
I am with Capon when he says that without grace – without the fact that God saves us in spite of ourselves, in spite of our sin – none of us would have a prayer. I accept that as propositionally true, theologically true, true in the abstract. In Christ, we are free. But when one retires – as this one recently has – the question presents itself more immediately, more practically. What I did with my freedom before was go to work. Alright, I know that was an act freely done. I could have cleaned out my IRAs and headed to Mexico or something, but I freely chose to head to the office, every day for almost 40 years. That was freedom, but it did not always feel like freedom. Retirement, as I am blessed to have it right now, with good health and sufficient resources and a happy marriage, does actually feel like freedom. What do I do with that?
Well, lots of things, actually. More study, more time outdoors, more creative writing and deeper exploration into all of those old movies that my wife and I love (Last night we watched “I Know Where I’m Going,” a British film produced in 1945 and filmed on location in the Hebrides Islands. Early romantic comedy – lots of fun!) Netflix is a wonderful thing.
Part of my study has been to re-read Norman Doidge’s fantastic book, The Brain That Changes Itself. My first reading of this inspiring work was what got me started on this whole “brain training” thing in the first place – the thing that started me writing this blog. Well, I did the training for a while. I subscribed to the Brain HQ webpage and faithfully put myself through the paces there, day after day. I did make some progress, according to the measurements provided on the site, and I found that I was strong in some areas – like recognizing people’s faces and in visual and auditory processing speed – and weaker in others – like attention span and navigational skills.
But after a while, I dropped off, then dropped out. Can’t remember exactly why. Circumstances of life may have intervened. I may have been discouraged by a slowing rate of progress (or complete lack of progress in some areas). My fundamental dislike of subscribing to anything no doubt played a role. These days the advertisers make it so easy to commit yourself to regular monthly withdrawals! Ech! You could easily spend your life away just top move electrons around on your computer and television screens.
I did continue to work on the abbreviated training programs that Brain HQ provides, but this was only once in a while and did not allow the kind of feedback that measures progress.
But I am reading the book again and I again came to those passages that quantify the effects of this kind of brain training. I’ll not repeat them all here except to say that the research in this book goes a long way toward proving that the brain is very much like a muscle. That is, it responds to exercise – particularly the right kinds of exercise – and that with proper training and nutrition, it can accomplish things that are beyond your imagining. People of a certain age (ahem, my age) were able to restore their memory functions to what they were ten or twenty years before.
I look around and see what people my age have let happen to their bodies and I also look at those who have, through deliberate and faithful effort in diet and exercise, preserved themselves physically and are able to do far more than their lazier peers and in some instances and in some ways can still approach their own physical performance of decades before. What if you could do that with your brain? What if your brain were even more responsive to the right kinds of diet and exercise?
And, so inspired, I am giving myself a 65th birthday present of a re-subscription to the paid exercises. One of the ideas that Doidge touches on in the book is that progress – dramatic progress that comes only as a result of continued, concentrated effort – can be achieved where the trainee is convinced that there will be rewards commensurate with the effort.
They say that youth is wasted on the young. What could I do with the powers I had at my height of strength now that I have freedom, time and wisdom? Now, there is a prospect of reward.
More later . . .