Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Glossolalia



This month's edition of the Concord (the seminary student-run newspaper) is Big Words.  One of my dear friends was brave enough to write about her experience in the Assembly of G-d and the meaning of the word "glossolalia" - the act of speaking in tongues.

When I was seventeen, I attended an Assembly of G-d church, as I've mentioned before.
There I spoke in tongues.

I could say "I learned to speak in tongues" as I had not known how before, but that makes it seem that such behavior was required, or taught, and it was neither.  I can say "I received the gift of speaking in tongues" but I am wary of claiming this gift of the Spirit, as if to exalt myself over others.  The best way is to say "I spoke in tongues" - I observed others speaking in tongues, and over time I felt moved to do so as well.

This is very odd to think about, and to explain to people; who am I to have done such a charismatic, pentecostal thing?  But I did.  I did not speak in a babble that all understood in their own language (as in Acts 2) - I did not speak in a babble that others interpreted, as mentioned in Paul's letters (1 Corinthians 12, for example).

Rather I spoke in a babble that I sensed inwardly as an experience of praise - a prayer that was so exhilarated and overwhelmed that words could not come fast enough, what I interpreted and named as "a sigh too deep for words" (Romans 8:28).  I do not know what others' experience was, but this was mine - that my mouth could not keep up with my heart.

This I have not done openly since leaving the AoG congregation - yet to this day I can feel the overwhelming movement inside me, threatening to burst out my sternum, in these odd moments of joy and connection.

At these times I clamp my mouth closed, terrified in the midst of our Lutheran chants of of Agnus Dei, Qui Tollis Peccata Mundi I might start babbling again.  I have learned that, when absolutely necessary, I can breathe out the words without vocalizing them - my lips forming the words with no sound to accompany them, like Hannah praying at the doorpost of the temple of the Lord (1 Samuel 1).  I do and do not like doing this.  It terrifies me that I am moved to do this, and it troubles me.

There are others at Luther Sem who have spoken in tongues in past congregation.  A few of us have found each other and had long talks about what it meant to us then and what it means now and how to interpret it within a Lutheran framework.  I call us the Evangelicals in Exile (with the irony of most of us now being members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America).

We have all agreed that we wouldn't feel safe speaking if the Spirit rested upon us during worship - but that we still, from time to time and place to place, feel moved to speak.

We have all agreed that it is very, very odd to confess such a thing in such a place as Luther Sem.  It was odd to confess it at Olaf, as well - I remember defending it then, trying to put words to a wordless experience.  Mainline Protestants do not have a framework for understanding glossolalia - to them, it is babble.

But what is it to me?

Is it a gift of the Spirit?

Is it the remnants of a scared seventeen-year-old girl imitating what others are doing?

Is it selfish, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14: "For those who speak in a tongue [without interpretation] do not speak to other people but to God; for nobody understands them, since they are speaking mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, those who prophesy speak to other people for their building up and encouragement and consolation. Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves, but those who prophesy build up the church" ?

I do not know.

I share this in trepidation, but moreso in support of my friend's bravery; she is quite an amazing woman to be so open in so public a way, in a community such as Luther Sem.

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