In ONMB Blog

Blog Post: Chapter 7, “TOV Churches Nurture Grace”

This was a wonderful chapter to read. Receiving grace and giving grace to others as a way of life creates the safety of living daily life in the Ventral Vagal state of the autonomic nervous system. In that grace, we are connected externally with each other, and connected internally, each with our own self.

“Dr Stephen Porges, the author of The Polyvagal Theory, proposes that when we feel safe within our experience, we are operating from within our social engagement system. Our social engagement system allows us to feel connected to ourselves, others, and the world around us. It is activated from being in our ventral vagal state and stimulates physical and psychological responses:

  • Physical – reduced heart rate, steadier breathing, relaxed digestion, and a reduction in stress hormones.
  • Psychological – a sense of safety, empathy, compassion, joy, mindfulness, and connection.”

Taken from: ‘Finding the Ventral Vagal State’

I am reminded of a pastor and his wife I knew while I was a teen-ager and for many years after. Over time I grew to trust them; their attitude and actions toward me were highly ecnouraging and very grace-filled. As I relate them to the Polyvagal Theory, I would say that I was in Ventral Vagal when I was with them. Their grace for others was evident when I was in their presence.

God’s grace is so freely given to us: “First, someone has something to give.” (p. 116). I am ashamed how quickly I can forget the great grace that God has so very graciously given me; He has forgiven me so much and redeemed me from so much! “Third, the giving and receiving of the gift of grace creates a bond, a personal relationship between the giver (God) and the receiver (us).” (p. 117).

When I think of giving, I am reminded of Pioneer Park, a lakefront park whose land was donated in the 1940’s by several people for the enjoyment of the community. In August I attended their Annual General Meeting as I have for several years. Each year I am reminded and impressed by the generosity of so many people to raise funds and maintain the park for others to enjoy in so many ways. The selfless ‘gift’ of the original benefactors has continued to create a culture of giving. As I was sitting at the meeting in the park – outside in God’s creation – I was reminded again of the generosity of so many people who have given so much time, talent, donations over the years. I noticed that I was in Ventral Vagal.

What is our church community like? Does the gift of grace reign? Or does judgment reign? In reality, it is not either/or, but both/and. We are an imperfect people. The gift of giving and receiving grace in a healthy environment creates trust, what the Polyvagal calls ‘social engagement.’ If judgment reigns, so does fear. Fear creates the Sympathetic (fight/flight) and/or Dorsal (shut down) states.

A grace filled church is hard work. The authors quote C.S. Lewis:

“Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.” (p. 119).

How true! May God grant grace to His church.

“In the Bible, freedom is both a freedom from (sin in all it hideous expressions) and a freedom for (becoming the children and siblings that God designed and desires). Freedom creates trust just as trust creates freedom.” (p. 120).

Let us each choose to grow in the life of giving grace in our churches, enabling us to live out of Ventral Vagal so we can continue to become the individuals God has called us to be, maturing in the safety of a grace-filled church.

Blog Post from Dianne Loerchner, Registered Psychotherapist and Elder at Kingsfield Zurich Mennonite Church

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