Thursday, June 16, 2011

Praying in Tongues

Tuesday afternoon, our part-time office manager asked me if I could go fix the timeclocks for the exterior lights of the church, which were once-again off cycle.

The timeclocks are ancient critters, electrically powered clock wheels with adjustable pins that physically throw a switch to kick the parking lot lights on or off.  They date back to Lord Knows When, and are a bit intimidatingly archaic, particularly as they're live with current and can give you a sharp reminder of the effects of electricity if you touch the wrong part of them.

Though they're older than me, they do work, unless there's a power outage, in which case they get thrown off.  So, as Resetter of the Timeclocks is one of my pastorly duties, I puttered off to make the necessary adjustments.

As I cut through the sanctuary, I was immediately confronted with the wordless keening of a high-pitched woman's voice.  The voice filled the space, and given the over-bright acoustics of the sanctuary, seemed to come from everywhere.


I looked around.  No-one was visible in the sanctuary.  Not a soul.

"Hmmm," thought I to myself.  "I'm really going to hope that when I move forward so that I can see around the drum kit and the plexishield, there's someone sitting there."

Preferably not this person, though.

And there was.  It was A.,  a woman who comes to use the sanctuary often during the week, a middle-aged Korean who I'll occasionally find asleep on a pew or reading the Bible.  She doesn't appear to be affiliated with anyone in the church, but as my preference is for a sanctuary to be a place of welcome and spiritual refuge for all who seek it, she's more than welcome to be there.

She was praying out loud, eyes closed, arms raised, uttering a wordless juddering percussive patter.  She noticed me.  She smiled, gave a slight bow, and said, "Ah, moksanim!"  I smiled back.  Then, she went right back to it.


I tend to have more patience with tongues and other forms of ecstatic prayer than many progressives.   Our languages, be they the patterned hum of vocal cord-generated vibrations in a nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere or symbolic representations of those patterns on a page or screen, well, they're not the language of Being.  They aren't the Logos.  They can point to it, or represent it, or signify it, or evoke it, but they're a step removed from the song that our Creator is singing in the First Book.

There are points, in our intersection with the depth of Being, when rationality, and even language itself, simply don't cut it.

And while glossolalia isn't really my cup of tea, neither am I willing to get all curmudgeonly about it, particularly so close to Pentecost.  It's not the gift of gifts, of course.  It's easily faked, or induced by a crowd-consciousness.  Worse yet, it can be presented, as it was in Corinth, as evidence of just how much more pneumatolicious you are than everyone else.

But done alone and/or with humility, it's no more negative than reciting a mantra, or working your way through rosary beads.

The next day, when I gathered my small Wednesday contemplative prayer group in the sanctuary, A. was there again, reading quietly to herself.  I invited her to join us, which she did.  Being quiet and still in prayer was hard for her, but she did try.

And as she whispered, softly, dadadadadada...nanananana..., I noted that the single flickering candle at the center of the sanctuary fluttered and danced in much the same way.

Tongues of fire, I suppose.