So here I am, stressed and anxious. Or happy, at peace and joyful.
And almost without realizing it, I find myself praying. In tongues.
* * *
How do I find myself in Oxford, England, in the 21st century, praying in tongues, this ancient First Century gift vividly described in The Acts of the Apostles?
Well, 30ish years ago, when I was 17, I was visiting my grandmother in Mangalore, a pretty Catholic seacoast town on the west coast of India, where my family was “from.”
And there was a visiting Spanish priest called Marcellino Iragui who was running a Charismatic retreat.
It was a little like the Alpha course. We went through forgiveness, repentance, renouncing occult involvement, and on the last evening, the priest prayed for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Well, I gulped it all up; I drank it all in. Not so my father, who was amused, sceptical, bored—he was 63 and there was no way he was going to take up any new enthusiasms. He flatly refused to take me to the Charismatic Crusade for another day.
* * *
And so I asked a friend who knew the priest to introduce me, and asked him for the Baptism in the Holy Spirit there and then.
(I have an instinctive distaste for rules–Anita Antinomian, my friend Paul called me–and it amuses me that even in this most holy encounter, I sought to jump the queue, and do it my way.)
“Is she hungry?” he asked my friend, Joyce Fernandes, who later became a nun at Mother Teresa’s convent. “ Oh yes!” she assured him, having no idea at all. (Indian women can be very nice!)
And so we went through the theory: forgiveness, gifts of the spirit, fruits of the spirit, and then he laid his hands on me, and prayed for the Baptism of the Spirit, having me repeat the prayers after them after him. He asked for all sorts of wonderful gifts—prophecy, healing, miracles, wisdom, knowledge. All this I was game for.
When he came to, “And Lord, please give me the gift of tongues,” I interrupted him.
“I don’t want that,” I said. “It would be too embarrassing. My family would tease me.”
“You can’t pick and choose among the gifts of God,” he said sternly.
And so we prayed. I felt nothing. I was both disappointed– a bit “Oh well, it would have been exciting had it worked,”–and relieved.
I re-joined my father. “So are you now a Charismatic?” he said, amused by the whole business. “Have you the gift of tongues?”
“No,” I said.
We returned to my grandmother’s. “Do you have the gift of tongues?” everyone asked.
“No,” I said, with complete truthfulness.
* * *
Well, I spoke too soon. I woke that night with rushing, gushing joy, a river that felt like it would burst my heart. It was overwhelming: joy so ecstatic, so seismic, it was akin to pain.
I knelt by the side of my bed, and prayed, praising God for the beauty of the world, for Himself, for his goodness–strange, barbarous-sounding unintelligible language bursting out of me. I was praying in tongues
I prayed in tongues, and I prayed with my mind, in rapture, with emotions new to me, prayed in English and in my new spirit-language, thanking God for his incomprehensible loveliness, which I suddenly perceived. For himself
“Oh, Lord, I just praise you, I praise you, I praise you.”
* * *
And well, that language never left me. A month later, I was in Mother Teresa’s convent, as an aspirant, training to be a nun.
I asked her in a personal meeting, “Mother, what do you think about speaking in tongues?”
“One tongue is enough for a woman,” she said brusquely.
And that was that!
* * *
Well, but I still prayed in tongues; I couldn’t help it—remember that Anita Antinomian bit?–and have done so for the last 30 years.
Tense: I find myself praying in tongues. Anxious: Are we going to catch that plane?–I find myself praying in tongues.
And when my spirit soars, swells, and for no good reason I am unreasonably happy, I find myself again praying in tongues.
When I am joyful and exhilarated in my garden, or by the seashore, or on a mountain, I find myself praying in ecstatic tongues. And, more restrained but slowly coursing into peace, I pray in tongues when I am miserable
It is the greatest mood-changer, and wisdom-infuser I know. The greatest shortcut to joy.
* * *
And sadly, my spirit-tongue hasn’t changed, and, sadly, it sounds rather ugly to my years, barbaric even. It’s not Greek, or Latin, or French, languages I love. I heard a Vicar in Oxford sing in tongues once, and it sounded like Persian, something vaguely Byzantine, definitely sophisticated.
Mine, it’s a cave man tongue, heavy glottals.
And that’s just as well, for if I spoke Old French or Medieval Latin, I would have been tempted to show off about my lovely spirit language. Instead, I have kept quiet about it, and prayed quietly as God meant, no doubt, for the last thirty years.
Some people say that one’s spirit language develops as we mature. Well, I have matured spiritually (ask Roy what an angel I can be when he is impossible. Well, sometimes!), but my language has basically stayed static.
And isn’t it strange that the one gift I specifically said I didn’t want was the one gift I got? (Though, about 20 years ago, the gift of prophetic knowledge and insight began to manifest itself in me, and be recognised by others, and is now my most treasured spiritual gift.)
* * *
Rejoice always, pray constantly, in everything give thanks. How on earth is that possible?
Well, praying in tongues is one way. I pray when I go on a long walk, and flag. Or do manual work. Or in the winter when the night finds me too tired to read or write, too tired to pray coherently, but not tired enough to fall asleep.
And then the Spirit, left within my spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing my inheritance, prays in rough-hewn sounds without any words I understand, and God hears His intercession, and so I know that all will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well.