Pastor Tim Column: Brain Power

Torbay Weekly

Do you ever take the time to sit and think about the things you wish you could do but can’t, or admire the talents and skills in others that are far beyond your own capabilities?

When I was young, I dreamt about playing guitar & being lead singer in a band.  However, the closest I got was when, at nine years of age, me & my school-mate David Pullen would stand in front of his bedroom mirror using tennis rackets as guitars, “playing” along to the 1973 number one classic song Blockbuster, by glam-rock band The Sweet!

Drawing & painting is another skill that has always eluded me, but one of my favourite places to visit in London is the National Portrait Gallery, because I never cease to marvel at how people are able to paint or draw someone’s features with such beautiful skill and precision.

There are those who suddenly discover a talent, which they never imagined could be part of their repertoire. One such person is American orthopaedic surgeon Dr Tony Cicoria. Back in 1994, 42 year-old Tony was talking to his mother on a payphone when he was struck by lightning.

“There was a little bit of rain, with thunder in the distance,” he recalls. “My mother hung up, and the phone was a foot away from where I was standing when I got struck. I remember a flash of light coming out of the phone. It hit me in the face. Next thing I remember, I was flying backwards.”

Although he received burns on his face and his left foot, from where the electrical charge had entered and exited his body, Cicoria survived this “act of God”, and apart from a brief short-term memory issue, and feeling sluggish for a couple of weeks, he made a swift recovery, seemingly without any long-lasting issues.

Then, suddenly & without warning, Tony gained an insatiable desire to listen to piano music, which was totally out of character. Although he’d had a few piano lessons as a boy, any musical interest he had was more rock than classical. And not only did he suddenly crave listening to the works of Chopin, he also had the desire to play the compositions for himself; so he learnt to play the piano!

Next, he began to hear piano music in his head, and had vivid dreams of being on stage, dressed in a tuxedo, performing pieces of music he had written. Over the years that followed, as well as continuing his work as a surgeon, Tony Cicoria pursued his new and surprising love for the black & white ivory keys, publicly performing his own piano sonatas, and releasing an album of his compositions in 2008, entitled “Notes From An Accidental Pianist & Composer”.

He's not the only person to suddenly discover a hidden talent due to an extreme neurological episode, (known as a CNS – Central Nervous System – Injury). Another American, Jon Sarkin, had a sudden and immediate desire to draw, following a stroke in his mid-30’s. His drawings have been featured in the New York Times and regularly sell for $10,000.

And then there’s Jason Padgett, for whom everything changed when he suffered severe concussion after being mugged, but who then suddenly started seeing geometric patterns and grids everywhere and became obsessed with all things mathematical.  Much of the workings of the human brain remain a mystery, even to experts who have committed their lives to studying how it functions.

Theoretical physicist Professor Michio Kaku says that “the human brain has 100 billion neurons, each neuron connected to 10 thousand other neurons. Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe”.

Considering the strange & mysterious experiences of others from the perspective of my Christian faith, I’m reminded from what I read in the Bible that, although much of the workings of my own body & mind are far beyond my comprehension, I’ve put my trust in the One who knows it all, and who also knows me intimately.

“Before I shaped you in the womb, I knew all about you. Before you saw the light of day, I had holy plans for you”, says God to Jeremiah the prophet (Jeremiah 1:5).  And King David’s response to recognising that his existence was so much more than a mere molecular accident was to worship his Creator in Psalm 139:14 saying, “Lord, thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvellous”.