A Reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians.
Brothers and sisters,
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit.
To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom;
to another, the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit;
to another, faith by the same Spirit;
to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit;
to another, mighty deeds;
to another, prophecy;
to another, discernment of spirits;
to another, varieties of tongues;
to another, interpretation of tongues.
But one and the same Spirit produces all of these,
distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.
I’m a jealous person.
When I read Paul’s letter on spiritual gifts, I immediately want them all. Then I list them in order of importance to me, then get jealous of other people who have different gifts than I do. Or who have the better gifts. The cooler ones. The ones people respect.
When I was 23 I attended a prayer meeting for people to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. That’s Protestant talk for a separate Holy Spirit indwelling experience of the individual believer distinct from salvation, resulting in being “filled with the Spirit.” It’s a kind of commissioning: Go, be blessed, and bless others. There are other verses in the Bible about the Holy spirit coming to baptize with fire after Christian converts had been baptized with water. The most famous is in the Acts of the Apostles—the book that records the adventures of a ragtag early church after Christ’s death—when tongues of fire hover above people’s heads like the Spirit over creation. People spoke in tongues that day.
Those with an evangelical or charismatic connection will be familiar with speaking in tongues. When I first heard someone do it, I was fascinated by the unintelligible sounds they were making. In some churches people stand up and prophesy in tongues, and then another person will stand and interpret their locutions. But in our church, speaking in tongues was a private prayer language between you and God and I WANTED IT.I prayed for that gift like I prayed (begged) for a prom date. I prayed for 20 years.
It didn’t happen.
There was no diadem of flame. No secret exchange with God. Nothing. I was so disappointed.
To make matters worse, my roommate had prayed in tongues that very first night. I was jealous, and I felt like a failure. Like I wasn’t good enough for the best gift. I didn’t care if I had other gifts. I didn’t even want to consider the others. I wanted the lead role or nothing at all. I thought that if I had the gift of tongues I would pray better and God might actually listen.
But sometimes what we don’t get points to what we have to give. St. Paul says each of us has a gift, though it might not be the one we want. It might be the one you neglect, the one you disparage, the one you didn’t even know you had. Whatever it is, it’s particularly suited to you, to your time, to your place.
Maybe I already had the words I needed—words of supplication and confession, words of healing, words for some other lonely and wounded girl out there, wondering if there’s a father who actually loves her. Not spoken in an unintelligible language, but written in plain English, on paper, on a screen.
Go, be blessed, and bless others.
Tammy Perlmutter is Protestant to the core but has an abiding love and longing for the liturgy and mystery that is found in Catholicism, and is a Benedictine Oblate with St. Scholastica Monastery in Chicago. She writes about unabridged life, fragmented faith, and investing in the mess at her blog Raggle-Taggle. She is founder and curator of The Mudroom, a collaborative blog encouraging us to find the meaning in the mess. She writes blog posts, personal essays, flash memoir, poetry, and preaches sometimes. Tammy is a regular contributor to Sick Pilgrim’s Dark Devotional.