“Slain in the Spirit”: When You Fall Over, Because Jesus

animal, animal photography, avianReligious people often say that prayer makes them feel at peace. It’s not uncommon to hear a person of faith say they just “feel so loved” in God’s presence when they pray or go to church. But sometimes they take it a bit further. Some people act as if God is physically doing something to their bodies, and that’s what this post is about.

The Pentecostal church is perhaps most well known for practicing these things, but some Catholics have become very involved in these bizarre behaviors as well, and I had the privilege of hearing about them growing up.

Speaking in tongues

My mother swore up and down that my brother’s godmother could speak in tongues. Completely unintelligible language would spurt from her mouth in prayer sometimes, and my mother firmly believed her friend been given this gift by the holy spirit. I never witnessed this myself so I’m unable to describe how it sounded exactly, but from what my mother said, it didn’t sound like any language she had ever heard. This surprised me then, because my mom studied voice in college and spent a lot of time on foreign languages, so she’s familiar with a lot more languages than the average joe.

A believer would probably point out here that she probably studied European languages and maybe this one came from somewhere in Asia or Africa. But giving one the ability to speak a random language for no reason is not the holy spirit’s M.O. In religious folklore (the Bible), the holy spirit is supposed to have given this incredible ability to communicate with and understand people who do not speak your language. The story of Pentecost is literally about this happening. It’s not about someone standing and speaking nonsense syllables in front of a group of people who already all speak the same language, as I’ve come to understand seems to be what happened with my mom’s friend. It makes you wonder, what the heck is this woman thinking when she’s doing it? Does she know she’s faking? Or has she convinced herself of the lie she’s been telling her friends?

 

The Charismatic Movement 

This is, I’ve come to understand, not exclusively a Catholic thing.

I kid you not, maybe a year or two before I attended the Steubenville conference  I’ve written about in a previous post (which definitely shares some traits with this movement), my mother told me she was attending what’s known as a charismatic Mass, led by a priest whose masses were often so moving that people would be “slain in the spirit.”

I asked her what that meant. She said it’s when the holy spirit touches someone, and they are moved so deeply that they fall over. (Yes, like fainting.) I asked her if she had ever been slain in the spirit. She said yes, but only once.

If you click the first link under this heading, you’ll see that the Charismatic movement rose to popularity in the 60s and 70s in a variety of Christian denominations. I can’t help but wonder if the culture of the time had more to do with it than anything else. Religion had to compete with sex, drugs, and rock and roll after all. With some showmanship and emotional manipulation, I suspect the Charismatic movement’s appeal comes from the community that forms around it. Much as I experienced at Steubenville, there’s a sense belonging that comes with everyone in the room participating and having these strong emotional reactions to religious stimuli. We tell ourselves, for instance, we’re crying because we’re having this emotional encounter with God, but really we’re crying because other people around us are. It’s a social response manipulated to serve a narrative. The power of a crowd reaction.

Miracle healing also falls under the category of the Charismatic movement, and that’s its own can of worms.

I see the appeal of having not only a god you believe intervenes but one who interacts with you directly and gives you a damn superpower. But it’s simply not real; it’s a pleasant fantasy at best.

Have you had any experiences with Charismatic Christianity? How did that play out? Feel free to leave a comment. All opinions are welcome. Just be respectful and think things through before posting.

Happy thinking!

Nancy

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12 thoughts on ““Slain in the Spirit”: When You Fall Over, Because Jesus

  1. As always, Nancy, you write the most interesting posts….they highlight how catholics do things totally different across the country.

    In my area of the midwest no catholic would ever have been caught dead speaking in tongues…that was for the crazy charismatics (who were heretics). I was taught in CCD that “speaking in tongues” happened only back in biblical times. Interestingly enough, it was impressed upon us that it was NOT “human language”…it was the “language of god” and therefore would sound like gibberish to us. Apparently attacks of speaking gibberish meant you were really holy back in the day. As usual, it’s convenient that it was supposed to sound like gibberish, so you could never prove it didn’t come from god.

    When I was a kid, the girl who lived next to me was a couple years older than I was and her family were hard-core pentecostals. She didn’t like me because I was catholic and told me at our bus stop that I “worshipped idols.” I was too young to understand the divide between catholics and protestants at such an age, but I think she was referring to how some people think catholics worship statues of Mary and the saints.

    Anyway, in the summer she would leave her bedroom window open, get “slain in the spirit,” and start “speaking in tongues”…which was basically her screaming in gibberish. It sounded like a lot of nonsensical words that had no rhyme or or reason, however they were shouted with a lot of passion. This could go on for 10 minutes to over an hour, and the whole neighborhood could hear it. I found it quite frightening…in my mind it sounded like the babblings of a girl possessed by a demon (I was an imaginative child). Her family was very proud of her for being so holy and hoped some neighbors would convert to pentecostal (they didn’t).

    Looking back I find this both hilarious and sad. She ended up stealing large amounts of money from her employer (a grocery store) and spent several years in prison. I can only imagine the pressure she was under in that fundy family.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for the comment Violet! I always enjoy hearing how you experienced things differently. The idea of it being supposed to be gibberish makes sense to explain away the contradiction with the Pentecost story.

      What a tough neighbor to have–hopefully she didn’t do it too late at night. I wonder if anyone ever called the police on her over the noise disturbance. It’s fascinating to me that you thought it sounded like someone who’s possessed. At the Steubenville retreat, someone fell over and started shouting, and one of the chaperones said she thought the girl was possessed. For all I know though, she could have been a Charismatic. Or she could have had a medical issue. (She was taken out of the room). A friend of mine couldn’t sleep that night because she believed the possession idea. Maybe to a Pentecostal, possession might not have even come to mind. Interesting how different denominations have different cultural perceptions of behaviors.

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  2. My early education in Catholic schools was heavily influenced by the Vatican II accords. Old John the 23rd really understood the problems with the Catholic church and Vatican II liberalized a lot of it. It wasn’t until the mid 1980’s that the mutt JP II fucked it up.

    That said – we did things like retreats – we’d go out meditate, maybe pray, talk etc. I used to love those. No slaying in the spirit as such. And in my high school we used to have Friday meditation in the chapel. That was nice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the comment! As a Catholic I attended homeschooling co ops with families who attended Latin Mass at a traditional Catholic church that did not adhere to the Vatican II changes. It was interesting to encounter these people who continued the old practices. I was growing up in a post Vatican II, novus ordo church (but in a very religious, devoted family) so I could see the difference in how much stricter and more traditional it had been. My personal preference when I was Catholic (and frankly today, to admit my bias) was always towards mass in the vernacular, but you are definitely in good company with many who feel the old traditions were abandoned too hastily.

      I find it interesting that you had meditation. We had a lot of adoration, but even between youth group and my brief time in Catholic high school, I only experienced a Catholic meditation once, unless you count praying the rosary which I was taught as a form of meditation, though I consider it a separate thing. Different youth ministries definitely went different routes.

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  3. The church my stepdad brought us to in the late 1980s was full of speaking in tongues and slaying in the spirit. I think it was a non-denominational church (memories are hazy now), but the preacher had definitely grown up Pentecostal, not Catholic. I thought it was ridiculous (I’d been raised secular until my mother married this man).

    If anything, it confirmed my suspicion that religion was malarkey. It reminded me of chanting/shouting/dancing shamans in ancient pagan rituals (that I’ve seen exaggerated in movies, not in real life).

    I remember one lady, when she got excited, would mutter “Oh, I think I’m going to get slain in the spirit tonight!” with great anticipation, as if it was something she’d been looking forward to all week. I kept wondering: What purpose does it serve? I mean, certain miracles serve an obvious purpose: feeding a hungry crowd, healing a leper, raising a dead child to life. But causing someone to speak gibberish or fall over… Those are things we can do WITHOUT miracles.

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  4. I grew up in the Assemblies Of God, a denomination founded in the early 1900s around the idea of “baptism in the Holy Spirit with the initial evidence of speaking in tongues” — this was a core doctrine. I was A/G from birth in the 1970s through the mid-1990s. Speaking in tongues was something that happened *every* week. Slaying in the spirit was more rare — usually at special “revival” services with guest speakers.

    I remember the trance-like states we would put ourselves into with fervent, emotional prayer. At some point, there would be a mental disconnection between brain and mouth, and nonsense-syllables would come rushing out. Different people did it differently. Some would be mostly “nananananana” with a few random changes thrown in. Others sounded like an exotic foreign language (but never one that anybody recognized). Very occasionally, there would an “interpretation”, also supposedly from the Holy Spirit: when another person would stand and “translate” into English what another person had supposedly said in “other tongues”. It was never an earth-shaking prophecy or profound rethinking of life. It was always a mundane paraphrasing of commonly known scripture, or (sometimes) a pet topic of the “interpreter”.

    Raised in this, I accepted it all as normal and real. It took many years for me to deconstruct it all and eventually look back on it with a clear mind and realize how absurd it all was.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I didn’t grow up Catholic, but I have had what I know in my heart and mind to be true Pentecostal experiences (not Catholic, however). No one forced them on me or used any sort of emotional manipulation to convince me they were true. I have experienced some things in prayer I simply could not make up if I wanted to. At the same time, I have also been in churches that claimed to be Pentecostal, but it felt very manipulative and I had to leave because I was so grieved inside. Much of these experiences have been very subjective, which makes them very hard to prove. But I have also prayed for people, seen them healed, received their testimonies, etc – tangible manifestations one simply can’t deny. When, while praying for someone, you tell them something about themselves that you had no way of knowing ahead of time and they know exactly what you’re talking about, it’s very hard to believe God wasn’t involved. Not to offend anyone, but keep in mind I didn’t grow up Catholic, and I used to think Latin was a dead language (though of course the Catholic church still uses it). Then someone heard me speaking it in a prayer meeting one time and told me what the words meant. No natural explanation for that. No one taught me how to speak in tongues.

    So, I would say that based on my own experiences and understanding of scripture, there are true charismatic experiences as well as false ones, just as in the Old Testament there were true prophets as well as false prophets – as a matter of fact, I think there were more false prophets than true ones. Anyhow, that is, in a nutshell, what I have experienced in the way of charismatic Christianity: good fruit, bad fruit, a few fruitcakes, and numerous lessons in discernment.

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    • Thanks for your comment! I appreciate hearing from the other side of the experience.

      Also about Latin, I’ve often heard even Catholics refer to it as a dead language even though the church uses it for certain purposes.

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