Here’s another personal story from me. This was originally published as a guest post at my Texas friend Dave’s Agnostic Pentecostal. I use a bit of Christian jargon, hope it makes sense.
I’d like to tell my story of not being slain in the spirit.
I spent a fair bit of time in spirit-filled practice when I was a student, attended a charismatic church and worked closely with Pentecostals in our campus christian group. I can still speak in tongues on demand, if you want me to. At the time, a pentecostal ministry ran a revival week in a huge tent out in the countryside. I’ll let the cynical among us note the appropriateness of using a circus tent for such events. They brought a number of apparently-big-name preachers in from overseas and one of them was a clean-cut young man who was surely not even thirty years old. I’ll call him Redfords LaGrange. God had allegedly been talking to him since he was seven years old, and he’d made a study of “God’s Generals,” famous spirit-fooled preachers.
Standing at the rear of some 1500 people, I listened to him. On another night I’d heard Redfords exhort the whole crowd to voluntarily speak in tongues at the top of their lungs. I felt uncomfortable with this, mainly for what I felt were Scriptural reasons. It also seemed kinda stupid and I quietly left to stand in the dark field and pray. As the roar of the crowd behind me surged, I could hear the cry from the poor folk trying to sleep in a distant farmhouse: “SHUuuuuuuuuT UuuuP!” This rather amused me, especially since they actually used more colorful language.
Anyway, on the night in question Redfords LaGrange called for those engaged in youth ministry to come up; he was going to pray for them. I walked up the long aisle into the spotlights along with about 50 others and we stood in a line along the front. Now, when you’ve got 50 people to pray for individually and you’re a preacher with no time to spare, you have to kind of rush along the line and spend about 15 seconds with each person. You don’t have time to even ask the person’s name. As Redfords was coming, I prayed “God, I’m open to anything you want to do. Do anything you want to me. Make me fall over if you want, only please let it be you and not psychology.” I’d been praying that all the way down the aisle too. Let me say, I was very sincere about both things. I wanted a touch, but only if it was real.
I knew falling over was likely, as that tended to happen in these kind of meetings. I always preferred to call it “falling over”, as the term “slain in the spirit” is not one found in scripture. The cynical can point to the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who were slain BY the Spirit. I doubt anyone wants to recreate that experience.
Indeed, as Redfords came down the line, I saw people falling over out of the corner of my eye. “Catchers” ran forward to make sure they didn’t hit the ground too hard. Many of us already had catchers standing behind us in advance. If it’s an experience from God, I always wondered why he would allow you to be hurt?
Redfords LaGrange reached me and prayed, his hand gently on my head. I didn’t sense any physical pressure from him, I was alert to being pushed. He prayed kindly and briefly, and moved on. Did I sense him hesitate when I didn’t collapse? I stayed there praying, slowly realising that out of the whole line, I was the only one who hadn’t fallen over. Maybe I was resisting the spirit, maybe my intellect had made me hard-hearted. But I know I was sincere. I just didn’t want it to be weak buckling at the knees under the influence of emotion, tiredness or peer pressure.
Mark Vernon migrated from christian clergy to atheist, and now calls himself an “agnostic christian”. He’s an advocate of silence and not-knowing. Vernon says it’s important to draw a clear line between silence and an experience of ecstasy.
“There is an emphasis on experiencing ecstasy in much contemporary churchgoing. This is Christianity that is authenticated by some kind of peak experience, from speaking in tongues, to being healed, to seeing a statue move. Typically, the experience is noisy, demonstrative and, qua the experience, often barely distinguishable from a bungee jump or druggy high. But this is Christianity as psychological buzz; its passion is no more than emotion. It’s aims may be valid – happiness, satisfaction, belonging – but they eclipse the goal of spirituality, at least according to [Meister] Eckhart, which is that of sacred ignorance. For the pursuers of pure experience, the unknown is regarded suspiciously. They substitute the language of personal fulfilment for the language of … doubt.”
~ After Atheism, p 120.
So what do I make of this? As it happens, in the course of many other meetings I’ve never fallen over. I’m not a hater; I believe that if God was there, then my prayer was honoured. I also have a funny feeling that at least some of those people fell over because they felt they had to, or look unspiritual in front of the audience. Have you ever felt left out when others all seemed to be getting blessed? What did you make of it?
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Speaking of “slain”, have some Slayer. (“Cult” Lyrics.)