Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Riding in Tongues

The Israeli fight song "Blow the Trumpet in Zion, Zion!" was just winding down and the organ was still wailing and the people were freestyling praise to Jesus when my friend's mom began shouting and the keyboard dropped out and everyone fell silent to hear the tongues:

"SHUNDADAKEKESHUNDADAKAI! HAAL-ay-LEWWWWWW-YAGHGHGHG!"

We stood silently with our heads down waiting for what was called "the interpretation."  That's what happens when you have this particular kind of speaking in tongues: you wait for someone to put the tongues in English.

Sometimes you wait a long time, maybe five minutes, in silence.  Usually, that's when the person who shouted the tongues will give the interpretation, maybe feeling bad for having wasted our times, or maybe building suspense.

After church, we would eat roast or bean soup that had been in the crockpot all morning, and I'd ride off into the woods or through the alfalfa fields or through the Christmas tree farm on the brown needle paths.  I might take the sandy power line road through the Manistee National Forest, but most of the time I'd just steer off into the grass or the leaves as the spirit moved--around the pond or along the creek.

Eventually, I'd climb off into a deer bed (this was before Lyme's disease arrived in Michigan) and lie down and think.

I wanted to speak under the influence of the Holy Spirit, but it never happened.  I tried.  I'd force my mouth to move and produce sounds, but I couldn't force myself to speak nonsense.  If I'd start with "du-du-" I'd always end up with actual words "du-du-down in Detroit the Tigers have swept the series against the White Sox."

I wasn't confident enough to allow that kind of freedom, to speak untethered.  But maybe the Spirit didn't choose me.  You can't make yourself do it.

In high school the tongues part of my faith became the most secretive and shameful part of it.  I didn't want anyone to know that that's what I believed, even if I wasn't sure I believed it.  Rambo didn't speak in tongues.  Reagan didn't speak in tongues.  Maverick flew jet planes; he didn't let anyone, even God, move his mouth for him.

In college I tried to forget that tongues existed; I wanted real words deliberately chosen by real thought.  I thought that's how adulthood worked: you chose the trails you want to ride.

When my old mountain bike was stolen, I wasn't all that heartbroken.  I drove everywhere.

I started thinking about tongues again at some point.  Maybe it was prompted by a felon who lived across the hall and what he said about the Coltrane he had on:  "This is speaking in tongues if there is such a thing."

"Something there is that doesn't love a wall," wrote Robert Frost, but he could have just as easily said it about paths or roads or firewalls or any of the routed and established patterns we follow and that keep us orderly.  He might have thought it of the language he knew so well; how even the constraint of a over a million words is still somehow constraint,

Or maybe not.  Maybe he was happy within those confines.  Maybe the spirit moved him in an orderly and conventional manner.  After all, his is the fork in the road, the "road less traveled."

I too have chosen real words and real roads.  Now I think back on those Sundays of wandering off roads and out of the English language.  God is about a 10% possibility to me, but I can't say I don't long for the touch of a divine hand.

Sometimes it does come.  It's in my infant son's babbling.  It's out on the far roads of Lost River.  I wait for the interpretation, for the mundane affirmation of what I already know.  (Belief is another matter.)

Hallelujah.

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