This Sunday is Pentecost Sunday (which, fyi if ya dunno, marks the end of the 50-day Easter season: for more see Knowing the Christian Calendar). So right now a lot of Christians are revisiting the whole topic of “speaking in tongues.” Why? Because of this passage in The Book of Acts:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
(Underlined bold italics mine, but duh.)
So let’s talk a bit about speaking in tongues.
Afjgohg$&9jhiu shtiue3g+#$ ghep#@hfuHH6 **(fhelglglg blurghgopfhrrni….
Wait. That was typing in tongues. Sorry.
Har! Speaking in tongue jokes!
See, that right there is why I make the big bucks.
No, but seriously. It must be allowed that, on the surface of it at least, speaking in tongues is just a tad odd. Because why in the world would God think it a great idea to inspire people to say things that virtually no one can understand? Does the Alpha and Omega of All That Ever Was or Will Be really have nothing better to do than make people talk funny?
Then again, if I were God, would I be able to resist making people talk funny? Not for one second. And that is why I think we can all agree that it’s probably best I’m not God. (Though if I were God pizza and beer would be exceptionally good for you. Just sayin’.)
The thing about speaking in tongues is that it’s not, in and of itself, terribly convincing of anything, is it? If the Holy Spirit made a person who had never in their life spoken English suddenly start spouting Shakespeare, that would really be something, wouldn’t it? But if a person is so apparently filled with the Holy Spirit that all they can do is talk sheer gibberish? Then that’s just … listening to Sarah Palin. (Har! But moving on so I don’t get 10,000 insane emails today …)
The real truth is that speaking in tongues could be a totally legitimate phenomenon. God does, after all, work in ways so strange and mysterious that it’s all I can do to figure out how to get the top off my bottle of mouthwash. Why couldn’t one of the mysterious ways in which God works be making people speak in a language that’s exclusively between Him and them?
Maybe it’s like the secret language shared by twins: God connects with the Holy Spirit inside of a person, and the two of them start talking together so exuberantly that the host person can’t do anything but bubble over with God’s own no-time-to-translate uberlanguage.
Why couldn’t that happen? Seems entirely reasonable to me.
If this Sunday, while we are at church, someone leaps up out of their pew and starts speaking in a language for which we are one hundred percent certain there is no Berlitz program for learning, let us not freak out. Let us instead genuinely assume that God has arrived, and is moving and speaking through that person. Let us watch, listen, wonder, and perhaps even learn.