Sometime in the eighties, I’d been invited to attend a Catholic Charismatic meeting by friends at the Church I was attending. O.k., I had a free Thursday evening, and I liked these people, so I went. The closest I’d ever been to charismatic religion was occasional pauses watching Jimmy Swaggert while changing television channels.
The group, about thirty strong. consisting of mostly upper middle-aged widows, met across the street, in the school hall. As is my habit, I came a little early, and was introduced around. They were all very nice, seemingly sensible people, and very welcoming. I was then presented to the leader of the group, a young, Latin-American with, I was surprised to find, less charisma than one expects of a leader.
The group began with a general welcome, at which time I was introduced, formally, a focus point presented by the leader, no duller than the usual Sunday sermon, and a call-out for requested prayers. Most of these prayers were conducted in a semi-hypnoitc state of praying in tongues.
For those not experienced with “praying in tongues”, it is the vocalizing of unrelated syllables in a rhythmic cadence. Some have defined it as a private prayer language between the prayer and God, but there are various defenses and critiques of the practice. Personally, I think it, at best, pretentious, at worse, a diliberate sham performed to impress the gullible. Once I got used to the idea of deliberately voicing gibberish, I could pray in tongues with the best of them.
The meeting took about an hour. After the meeting, the leader came up to me and asked how I felt about the experience; I confessed I was not particularly impressed. He must have had an inkling of my attitude because he pressed a book upon me that he said would explain more about the purpose of the exercise. I took the book, promising I would read it and return it the following week.
I read it. I was not impressed. I went to the meeting the next week, intending to return the book after the meeting and then quietly disappear. Unfortuneately, being of an acommodating nature, I allowed two more books to be foisted upon me. They were equally unimpressive. I pledged myself to returning the two books and allowing no other books from the group to enter my world.
At the third meeting, I deliberately separated myself from the group by standing where the unused camp chairs were stacked. The meeting progressed as usual; the only difference being that this was designated as being a “healing” service. The assembly gathered around a candidate, layed hands on them, and begin to jabber in tongues. It was at that moment, as I remember, I raised my eyes to heaven and said to myself. “God, if you’re here, you are going to have to show me.
No one was more surprised than I was, when I hit the floor in a fit of ecstatic laughing; in the fall, I took a stack of chairs with me.
Immediately, an excited crowd gathered around my prone, giggling. body. When it was revealed that I was unhurt, I heard a gaggle of voices assuring me, and each other, that I had been taken in the Spirit.
To this day, thirty odd years later, I don’t know what had really spiked the seizure, but that moment, it did give me pause. I admit to a moment of susceptibility, but only a moment. My natural skepticism regained control. I didn’t dismiss the esoteric possibility out of hand, but neither did I subscribe to it. I participated in the group for a litlle over a year, striving to be as open and objective as possible. In the end, I decided that while I did not know the cause of what happened, there wasn’t evidence that it was truly esoteric. Reality, 1, Supetstition 0.
I will admit to being disappointed.