Being Charismatic

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Video meliora, proboque; Deteriora sequor

TSO links to a most excellent post on facing the charismatic movement when you yourself are not.

It is most interesting as to all outward appearances and to any casual acquaintance I would appear to be the total anti-Charismatic. And I suppose to some degree there is truth in that evaluation.

I belonged to the renewal for five or six years. I never once spoke in tongues nor did I ever accept that speaking in tongues is what the Renewal makes of it. In the time of Acts, speaking in tongues meant that whatever language was being spoken was understood universally by all in their own tongue. So this melodious, wordless, sing-song thing that had no meaning to mean obviously was not the same thing. (Note, that I said HAD and TO ME; I've come to think of it quite differently as I shall relate below.)

I remember the first time someone stood up in a meeting and uttered something in this very fluid sibilant language and my reaction was, "Thank you very much for that." No translation, no clarification, nothing comprehensible.

And yet, though I never spoke in tonuges, I attended every meeting and every gathering of these great people that I could. In their presence, I experienced God in a way that I never did in any other place. While they were all singing or praying in tongues, or dancing, or doing whatever the spirit led, I was led to an inner sanctum, a place of utter calm and quiet. It was as though this fence of prayer set up a boundary between distractions and prayer. I was at my most contemplative in the core of silence that surrounded this hub-bub.

I don't know what tongues is--I refused the gift I suppose. But I do not think everyone receives the gift, regardless of the insistence that it is given. However, I was given a tremendous, powerful gift of silence. The "white noise" of prayer all around me did lead me to a much closer relationship with God. I was able to nurture and foster my Carmelite vocation amid the charismatics.

Now I attend a Mass that would drive most of St. Blog's insane. All of the music is a Taizé-like chanting repetition of a simple phrase, or powerful new music that lends itself to the same strain, or simple gospel tunes, or even Calypso. When I sing, "Our God is an awesome God," at Mass, I encounter a reality that eludes me in the "standard music" of the non-Latin mass. I am engaged at a heart level and I am actually participating in Mass. And, it is so much more powerful when there are any number of people singing and raising their hands in prayer. Okay, not everyone's cup of tea, but I sense the Charismatic strain in all of this, and I am perfectly, wonderfully at home.

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Years ago, I once was in conversation with some charismatics about tongues, who suggested that I should pray for the gift. I thought about it. I didn't agree with their theology about what tongues meant, but, heck, I had no objection to having the gift of tongues, whatever its purpose might be. So I prayed, God, if you want me to have the gift of tongues, give it to me, and if you don't, don't. I didn't get the gift of tongues (unless the continuing gift of a modest natural facility with foreign languages counts). Which worked fine for me.

What I have heard is that the Holy Spirit grants different charisms to different people according to their need and His plan. I personally wound up with "Bible flips" as a hint toward God's will for me (sounds crazy I know but if I am in dire need of being hit on the head and corrected, and close my eyes and flip that Bible open, then my eyes will fall on something that speaks personally to me about the situation ... this once happened 7 times in a row over three days to the same exact spot each time. After that, never to that spot again.)

I think the speaking in tongues charism wouldn't be nearly as necessary now as back then ... but who am I to say? I haven't ever had someone do it in front of me but think that my reaction would be much the same as yours, Steven.

I have been involved in the charismatic renewal for 35 years now; it is where I was evangelized, catechized, and baptized into the Church. At first, I rather took speaking in tongues for granted, as a simple sign of the Holy Spirit's activity, but as I have grown older, I have thought more about it. In the last few years in particular, reading posts by devout Catholics who were either skeptical of, or even hostile to, charismatic phenomena, I have considered what this gift is and what it is for. I do not have a complete answer. I do know that it is something that adds to my prayer life, especially in the context of group prayer. It seems to me that praying in tongues has much in common with liturgical prayer, or even more, with repetitive devotional prayer like the Rosary or the Jesus Prayer. It enables the worshipper to raise his mind and heart to God without having to think about what to say. I am not, as anyone who knows me can attest, averse to thinking; but if I am engaging in oral prayer I find it distracting to be choosing words. In the case of liturgical or devotional prayer, the words are chosen for me; in the case of charismatic prayer, whether in tongues or in the form of short repeated aspirations (e.g., "Praise and glory to you, O Lord"), the words come without the need to think about them. In both cases they are not the end but the means. I think this is what St. Paul means when he writes, "The one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself." When I am praying before the Blessed Sacrament, I often recite (silently or under my breath, since even we charismatics do not pray aloud in the Adoration Chapel) the Adoro Te Devote as well as praying the Rosary. In either case, my goal is a wordless adoration of Christ the Lord, perfectly present in the Blessed Sacrament. In a group, praying out loud, praying in tongues or in a known language in charismatic style (i.e., in English for me) achieves much the same effect. Other people may have other experiences of the practice, but I hope that mine may be helpful to you in understanding it.

I agree with Henry's comments. I grew up in a Charismatic home. Since I was little I went to Charismatic services and prayer groups. I still remember exactly the first time I heard my mother speak in tounges. It was like listening to an angel praise. In college and as an adult I have belong to Charismatic groups on and off. I have never prayed in tounges, although I did pray for the gift.

Nevertheless, when I'm surrounded by people praying in tounges it is like a body of water that goes up to the Lord, carrying with it all boats. It helps me so much get in a very holy place and feel the love of God very intensely in my heart. I feel this is a very good thing for those call to it. There should be no judgement by those not speaking tounges or those with the gift.

Dear Henry and Hector,

Thank you. I hope that nothing I wrote indicated that I thought ill of the gift or those that had it. I simply did not. And yet I was blessed by it in others. It's odd the way the Holy Spirit works. Perhaps I was too proud, or perhaps it simply wasn't the gift He meant for me. I've often noted that God carefully matches the gift to the recepient. But my experience among the Charismatic renewal will be always with me and I will always find among these great pray-ers a place of sanctuary even if I am not (seemingly) as actively involved.



Henry & Hector, forgive the comments I made in my post. I certianly don't want to sow dissension in an already very divided church. To draw artificial distinctions between charismatics and others was not my intention.

I didn't think that you or Enbrethiel or Mr. Riddle or Mrs. Gazis-Sax or Miss D. are attempting to sow dissension or require any forgiveness. I imagine that if one were not accustomed to praying in tongues, one might well wonder what it's for. Even if one is, it is good to consider that question. There are a variety of gifts, but one Spirit.

TSO, these comments, "Sometimes I think traditionalist Catholics like myself need a good dose of the charismatic side and conversely charismatic Catholic need a dose of traditionalism, but on the other hand that might be a case of eschewing the natural gifts (or limitations) God has given (or denied) us. Still, everyone knows the numero uno problem with us Catlicks today is the lack of joy, and joy is a gift of the Holy Spirit that seems especially present at Charismatic services." are certainly not offensive or divisive.

Steven, neither were yours.

So for both, no need to wonder if your comments landed bad. I have been in conversations with Catholics that talk about "those Charismatics' not knowing I have been one. As long as we all keep an open mind there's plenty of learning we can have from each other..., that's the beauty of St. Blogs! We are all on a beautiful journey...

This, my dear friends, is the way Christians are to speak to one another about areas in which we may have differing experiences, inclinations or beliefs. Charitable conversation in which we seek to understand gives glory to God and frustrates Satan to the point of tears.

Oh, well done.

A bravo from me, too. This was a brilliant post and comment thread. I needed to hear from both sides, since the whole idea of tongues is both terrifying and entrancing to me. In my infrequent exposure to a Charismatic Catholic Church, I will try and take it in the spirit you did, TSO and Hector, an ocean of praise, a holy white noise, sort of, I can't find a better term and think of the Rosary as holy white noise, too (that was also a good comparison).

Thank you Hector and Henry & Roz for your charitable comments, and for resisting the urge to refer to my ignorance as 'ignorance'. You certainly make the case for charismatics by your behavior, which is as it should be.

I am greatly relieved not to have caused damage in part because I secretly believe that yours might be the answer to the difficulties the Church is presently mired in.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on September 22, 2005 9:31 AM.

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