On Speaking in Tongues

The Link

Mark Proeger told me about this New York Times article which reports about a neurological study that researchers performed on women who speak in tongues. I found the findings intriguing.

Growing up in a Charismatic church, I saw and lived much of the "weird" side of Christian experience. I witnessed people fall down and lay on the floor in a trance after being "slain in the Spirit." I sat in a worship service where the speaker shrieked "Yeeeeessss, Looooord! Yeeeeeeeesssss!" in front of thousands of people with total sincerity. I regularly see people dance in worship. And every once in awhile, I see people around me speak in tongues.

Because I am naturally skeptical, and because I have sat in my share of Holy Ghost Circuses, I could dismiss all of the preceding as the manufactured spirituality found in strip mall churches where barefoot children have to corral the rattlesnakes and return them to their cages so that they can go picket Planned Parenthood. I could dismiss it, were it not for the following:

1) I see so much in Charismatic churchgoers that expresses without guile or pretense what it means to experience a love relationship with the one true God.

2) I often experience the presence of God in worship, hear Him speak to me in times of prayer, and (gasp) I speak in tongues, just like the women in the article.

My preferred way of interfacing with my world is through my mind. I love debating politics, discussing the last book I read, expounding on my latest theory on how the world works or picking the brain of my co-workers to find out how they would solve the problem I am working on. That said, there is a whole other world that requires more than my mind to connect to. Spending time in prayer, worshiping on my guitar, or speaking in tongues comforts my heart, stills my mind, and refocuses me on what is truly important in the minds of my busy, busy life.

Speaking in tongues in particular connects me with God in a way nothing else can. My mind cannot comprehend the words coming out of my mouth - I believe it is truly the Holy Spirit speaking through me. Frank Akins, Elder Emeritis at Red River, calls it "prayer language." I can't fully explain what it is, or why God would use such a weird way to express Himself in me - I only know that each time I do it, I experience His peace, and come away re-convinced of the reality of God's love and infinite power. It's an inkling of the miraculous that delivers a welcome dose of humility to my stubbornly rational mind and refreshing to my anxious heart.

This doesn't mean that I approve of everything I hear from the Charismatic/Pentacostal movement. It's a bigger issue than I care to discuss here, but many well-known Charismatic Christians value spiritual experience over godly living (cough, Benny Hinn, cough), and this bugs the hell out of me.

(Another thing that bugs the hell out of me: The American press always goes to Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell when they want to get a quote from the Evangelical Christian community on a national tragedy, and they'll say something like "God sent Katrina to destroy New Orleans because of all the gays." All the while, the rest of the Christian community is thinking, "Pat, you might want to sit this one out. You know, just stop talking now. Go leg-press 2000 pounds a few more times." But I digress...)

That all I got for now...


At 8:12 PM, Blogger sarahalil said...

What a fascinating article. Please excuse my ignorance, but when you speak in tongues, is it voluntary? Do you decide, I'm going to speak in tongues now, feel G-d's presence, and start speaking, or is it like He "takes over you" sometimes?

And glad to know not all Evangelicals agree with Pat Robertson. Kind of like not all Muslims agree with the extremists but you don't hear opinions from the moderates all that often.

At 9:57 PM, Blogger Nate said...


To answer your question, I think it is a combination of my choice to be in a prayerful, G-d-focused state of mind, and G-d's initiative to be present and speak through me in that way. I try to keep it quiet and personal, which is my understanding of how to handle it based on 1 Corinthians 14.

One other thing I'll add here - I have begun using liturgical readings from the Book of Common Prayer in my prayer times, and they seem to have the same effect in helping me spiritually focus. Read into that what you will...


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