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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

Being Prayed For. In Tongues

Thursday, May 03, 2007

NPH has written before of the prayer group that meets at the local retirement facility. One of our members lives there, and so from time to time we head over at 11:00 on a Wednesday morning to participate with him and this group of about 8 African-American women (he's white). We always find it edifying, if not a little bit quaint.

Yesterday we returned after over two months of absence. As the leader of the group began to solicit prayer requests, she asked NPH if there's anything he needed prayer for, anything at the church or otherwise. We mentioned some of the prayer concerns that people had shared in worship last Sunday, and that was that. In reality, NPH's mind and spirit are heavily pressed with concerns, but that was not the venue in which to share them. So we kept it formal, professional.

The leader began to pray. It didn't take long before her prayers were a moaning, almost chanting recitation of needs and pleas filled with "Hallelujah's" and other charismatic filler. And when she got 'round to praying for NPH, she explicitly prayed for him personally, making overt mention of "all those things he's keeping to himself."

Then she launched into a fervent tirade of glossolalia. For close-to-a-minute she ranted and pleaded in some kind of tongues language that nobody there could understand, a canting that NPH dare not try to reproduce.

Almost suddenly, the cognitive disassociation that usually marks NPH's participation in group prayer ceased. It's usually the case that we, when praying with others, are painfully aware of people's idiosyncracies and personality traits and the way those are brought to bear on their praying. We're also very conscious of ourself and our own words and inflections.

Yet here was this very strange, even ecstatic, kind of praying going on, yet because NPH was himself the subject he buckled down mentally and forced himself to just participate in it, rather than analyzing it and so distancing himself from it. This woman was praying for us in words that no person could understand, which is the only way that we could have been prayed for in a setting like that. We've got a strong hunch that whatever the pleas and prayers were that were coming out of her mouth, they pertained directly to things that only NPH knows about.

This experience converges with a couple of other things this week that have started to shake loose our otherwise stable arrangement of God and the natural world. There's the young woman we occasionally run into at the local gym, the charismatic who is utterly incapable of small talk and who must talk always and only about God: what God is teaching her, what God is saying to her, what God is doing in the community. We keep listening uncomfortably, nodding and saying, "yeah" and "uh huh" before finding a way to excuse ourself and wish her well. We keep walking away perturbed.

Then there is Jason Byasee's post on Theolog, the blog of The Christian Century. It's about some friends of his who's daughter suddenly got over a milk allergy problem she has had since infancy. Its' cessation coincided quite inexplicably with an occurance at her church youth group, where people laid hands on and prayed for her, that she would be healed. Byasee is flummoxed:
Her parents are not flaky people. They both have doctoral degrees from top flight, internationally recognized universities. They can’t explain her healing. Perhaps she just happened to grow out of her allergy that week. Or perhaps the Spirit worked.
He quotes another friend, a protestant minister, who, hearing the story and Byasee's ambivalence about it, simply said, "Man, we're in the wrong church. Our problem is that we pray without expecting God to do anything."

NPH hears himself addressed in this critique. Yet somehow yesterday's experience worked to create an expectation. Not an expectation that some miraculous intervention would soon be forthcoming, but rather an expectation that God is really listening, that prayer really can be more than the pious and self-aware mutterings of those of us who need to complain, an expectation that prayer actually does something to God and to us (we're stopping short of the oft-repeated mantra that it "changes things").

All of this is a strange convergence of people, thoughts, and incidents that have unsettled us and confused us and comforted us at the same time.
posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 4:23 AM


A quote from Will Willimon via notes from one of my professors:

“The risks and pitfalls of working with the Holy Spirit are so great in preaching, it is better to work alone. The Holy Spirit tends to be pushy, assertive and wants to take over. Our solemn duty as preachers is to protect the flock from unwarranted and divisive intrusions of God. Control is one of the chief functions of the clergy.”

That's what does it for me. I feel out-of-control enough already. It's not easy stuff (and I don't think we should accept everything wholesale), but I'm realizing how important it is to reinforce the idea that part of being the people of God is not being able to explain everything.

That still doesn't stop me from trying, though.
commented by Blogger Scott, 8:07 AM  
Thanks for these words...

I was involved in some of those charismatic praying circles in earlier phases of my life; though I must say not ever very comfortably.

Some of its emotional excesses and abuses helped push me closer to 'liberalism' and yet I've missed the unexplainable and transcendent nature of such workings of the Spirit.

Perhaps its time for us to find a way to pick that back up, but with more balance than we've had in the past.
commented by Blogger thechurchgeek, 2:53 PM  
I believe in miracles. I wish people within my faith would more readily acknowledge them.
commented by Blogger Happy In Bag, 6:14 PM  
Reminds me of a good story I read in Larknews:

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Frank Harrison, a lifelong Lutheran, began attending a charismatic church last month and now has his family worried.
"He’s scaring the wits out of us," says his mother. "All this praying he’s doing and the crazy talk about healing and spiritual warfare. He’s de-stabilizing the family."
Frank says he decided to change churches when he sat through an entire Lutheran service one Saturday evening before realizing it was a funeral service.
Out of curiosity he went to the liveliest charismatic church in town "to see the other extreme," he says. He loved it and now he greets people with "Praise the Lord!" and a big hug. He’s at church three times a week.
But his relatives became concerned when he invited them to an all-night Prayer-athon, participated in a Jericho March around the city and tried to lay hands on and heal several people at a recent family picnic. The family met recently to discuss Frank’s "disturbing religious fervor" and to plan an intervention.
"One day he was normal Frank, my fishing buddy, and then, bam, he was in this nutso church, speaking in tongues, fasting all the time and reading his Bible," says a cousin. "It's unnatural."
The family intends to tell Frank they are gathering for prayer, so they know he’ll come, and then they will spring their true purpose on him. They have hired an intervention expert for the occasion.
"We want the old Frank back," says his mother. "It feels good to be rescuing him."
commented by Blogger Andy and Lesa Brown, 8:19 AM  

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