Volume 6 / Issue 1 SPRING 2020

S p i r i t ua l i t y S t u d i e s 6 - 1 S p r i n g 2 0 2 0 4 5 Radovan Šoltés linked to the positive effects of this form of prayer described in Scala Paradisi: “ Contemplation is the lifting up of the heart to God tasting somewhat of the heavenly sweetness and savor. Reading seeks, meditation finds, prayer asks, contemplation feels. That is to say, ‘Seek and you shall find: knock and the door will be opened for you’ (Matt 7:7). Seek through reading, and you will find holy meditation in your thinking; and knock through praying, and the doors shall be opened to you to enter through heavenly contemplation to feel what you desire. Reading puts as if it were whole food into your mouth; meditation chews it and breaks it down; prayer finds its savor; contemplation is the sweetness that so delights and strengthens. ” ( Scala Paradisi , chap. 2). The question arises: What is it about meditative prayer that has enabled it to survive throughout the centuries (and even regain momentum in the spiritual practice of many Christians today) despite the many cultural and historical transformations in our society? Why was it not enough for the believers to be satisfied with the liturgical dimension of communal celebration or recitation of prayers? Well, it is because of the positive effects that this practice has on the spiritual life of believers. Additionally, recent find - ings in the fields of neurosciences and cognitive sciences showed some beneficial effect of reading and meditation on our brain on a neuronal level, which then manifests itself in the way we behave and experience our life. The benefits of this form of spiritual activity were intuitively discovered centuries ago and were firmly anchored in the daily spiritual life. 3 Neuroplasticity and Reading We do know today that the brain is not a biologically static organ. It changes throughout our lifetime. This discovery has changed our perception of the link between our brain activity and its external manifestations. It was long assumed that brain cells – neurons – are the essential components of the brain that are responsible for our consciousness and various other processes and that their number does not change after a certain point in a person’s life, but it indeed decreases (Zaviš 2011, 161). However, later researches have shown that synapses too play an extremely important role. A synapse is basically a junction at which neurons communicate with one another. While neurons remain the same, the synaptic connections constantly change – they are formed, they persist, and they die off. Only a fraction of synaptic connections is determined entirely by heredity. The other connections are formed based on information from the external environment through learning or experience in the broadest sense of the word (Koukolík 2014, 27–28). Changes in our brain mostly involve the constant formation or elimination of synaptic connections between neurons. Within the bounds that are determined genetically, neurons can extend and branch out their protrusions in a response to internal and external stimuli and thus build new contact points – synapses – with other neurons. Interestingly, the research showed that these changes can occur within tens of seconds. František Koukolík says: “ If you remember this narration and you are able to recall it and use it properly, it is because your brain had formed hundreds of millions of new synapses, a new neural network correctly connected to the old ones .” (Koukolík 2014, 33). This phenomenon is known as neuroplasticityor brain plasticity that is most active in small children and adolescents, but it is not lost in adulthood or old age either. The brain plasticity is the basis for learning and memory, emotional life and all other brain functions. In our lives, we are constantly thrown into changing situations and interpersonal experiences that form our Self. The same can be said about working on a spiritual level, since we specifically engage our thinking and that affect our brain in terms of plasticity. It has been proven that regular repetition of certain activities and active involvement of our mind has a positive impact on synaptic connections that are not only constantly formed but also reinforced by this repeated activity. This interrelates to our memory. One of the activities that have a positive im - pact on the formation of synapses is reading. However, this