Spirituality is NOT an adrenaline rush

Have you ever experienced an adrenaline rush during a worship service? Have you ever felt your blood rush to your face, your heart race, your breathing become more rapid and your senses heightened? Adrenaline is a natural hormone in our bodies that is triggered by excitement or fear. People can experience an adrenaline rush through various means, including from having too much caffeine and playing video games. Adrenaline plays a useful role in our God-given bodies. And often it is natural to feel excited or scared in God’s presence, and hence, experience an adrenaline rush! But when we confuse an adrenaline rush for an encounter or experience with God, or equate one with the other, then we are in trouble.

Psychologist and author Dr. Archibald Hart cautioned Christians not to confuse being spiritual with having adrenaline arousal. In fact, Hart suggests that this confusion can be harmful to our spiritual growth.

He writes: “The saddest thing about this kind of confusion is that it actually works against spiritual growth. Why? Because when we confuse adrenaline arousal for spirituality we start to worship our own bodies instead of God! We think we are listening for God’s voice when we are actually waiting for our adrenaline system to be aroused. Unless the body is ‘revved up’ there is no hunger for God. Unless there is physical stimulation, there is no desire for righteousness” (Adrenalin and Stress, 1991).

After the fire came a gentle whisper
I could not agree more. Especially in terms of our contemporary worship services, we must remember that listening and dancing/swaying along to loud, fast music can induce an adrenaline rush, regardless of whether or not it is praise music. It would be the same adrenaline arousal that concertgoers experience at a rock concert. To confuse our emotional experiences with spiritual experiences with God makes us, as Hart says, in danger of worshiping our bodies instead of God. We can be so focused on finding God in the exciting and awe-inspiring that we may totally miss God speaking in the “gentle whisper” (please read 1 Kings 19:11-13).

Don’t get me wrong though. I am not advocating that we stick to a stoic, cold, ritualistic style of worship or purely rationalistic spirituality. I think we need to allow for the diversity of spiritual expressions but recognize that they are just that – expressions – not spiritual norms that everyone must fit into.

Every generation and every culture tries to impose one particular style or expression of spirituality as the normative style, as if this is what it means to be holy or encounter God, and everything else falls short of truly experiencing God. In this generation and in this North American culture, it seems that the extroverted, adrenaline-arousal expression is increasingly assumed as THE spiritual experience.

That's why I think that, at this time, the words quoted from Archibald Hart are very relevant and need to be taken to heart. Reducing spirituality to an adrenaline rush makes an idol of our own God-given bodies, which is the exact opposite of our intentions for a spiritual experience with God – to love God more and to know God better!

Let us not try to induce adrenalin arousals, but if they do arrive organically, we should not dismiss or prevent those feelings. We need to navigate the extremes of either rejecting emotions and adrenaline rushes or elevating them into the crowning glory of spirituality.

  • Shiao Chong is the Christian Reformed Campus Minister & Director of Leadership, Culture and Christianity, a student club at York University, Toronto. He has published numerous articles for various Christian publications, including Christian Courier.

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