6. THE GIFT OF TONGUES (Glossolalia)
There are few spiritual topics that arouse as much curiosity and debate as speaking in tongues (glossalalia). Although this phenomenon is not restricted to Christian spirituality, our discussion of it in this series will examine the types of glossalalia described in Scripture, the kind of prayer this is, its relationship to other charismatic gifts, and even how to receive the gift.
The gift of tongues appears in the Pauline lists of charismatic gifts, but it is not included in the inventory published by the Catherine of Siena Institute. The CSI views this gift as more in the service of prayer and personal holiness than ministry to the community, and I'm inclined to agree. There are exceptions, however, such as when the gift manifests in pentecostal meetings as a catalyst for prophecy or other inspired messages, but outside of this, the manifestation is usually for the individual's good. As Paul himself notes:
For he who makes use of tongues is not talking to people but to God; because no one has the sense of what he is saying; but in the Spirit he is talking of secret things . . . He who makes use of tongues may do good to himself; but he who gives the prophet's word does good to the church.
- 1 Cor. 14: 2, 4 -
For this reason, it seems best to treat glossalalia as a kind of special case--a spiritual gift, to be sure, but one directed to the edification of the individual, and often with the consequence of catalyzing the expression of other charismatic gifts.
In Christianity today and in the early Church (it seems to have not been widely manifest for centuries in between), speaking in tongues is generally associated with charismatic, or pentecostal spirituality, where we see it manifesting in three distinct ways:
A. The person praying in an unknown language is actually speaking a human language that another person can understand. This is very rare, but it may have been the kind of tongue-speaking mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles 2:3-12.
B. The person praying in tongues is speaking syllables that constitute no known human language but that serve as a catalyst to open this person or another to a prophetic message from God. This is what Saint Paul encourages in 1 Corinthians 14:13-19. Tongue-speaking for purposes of prophetic enrichment can be noted at most charismatic/pentecostal prayer meetings.
C. The purpose of this prayer is the inner healing and spiritual edification of the individual praying. Such tongue-speaking is often called a prayer language. It may manifest spontaneously during prayer times and throughout the day. This impulse to pray in tongues may be suppressed, or the individual may choose to pray silently or aloud. We read of this type of prayer in many places in Scripture. (See, for example, Romans 8:26-27 and I Corinthians 14:1-2, 18-19.)
My concern in this series is with the third kind of tongue-speaking: prayer language. From my own experience (since 1973), I am convinced of the value of this type of prayer. The impulse for it seems to come from the Holy Spirit through unconscious dimensions of the psyche. Its consequences are inner peace, healing of emotions, and awakening the soul to the presence of God. It is also a natural bridge between active, mental prayer and quiet, contemplative prayer. Obviously, there are many Christians who could benefit from growth in these fruits.
I find this gift suggesting itself all through the day. Giving expression to it is possible under one's breath, but doing so aloud at times as when driving somewhere (preferably alone -- unless with an understanding passenger) is also good. The mysterious syllables and their rhythms seem to awaken the mind and heart, and bring balance and wholeness to one's life. Through this gift, the Holy Spirit ministers to us all through the day, keeping us centered and protecting us from dark influences. It seems as though the Spirit regulates one's breath and vibrates the inner energy centers through the medium of these sounds and syllables. It also often happens that after a time of praying in tongues, new insights come into the mind, and deep appreciations of God's presence in one's life.�
Another major point made in the Book of James and other places is that control of the tongue is a way of controlling one's entire being (James 3: 1-5). Turning over the control of one's tongue to the direction of the Spirit is a powerful way to surrender one's life to God. Sometimes when I don't know how to pray, I just direct my mind and heart to God in praise and the gift of tongues becomes available, moving me to pray in the way I need at that time. I find Scriptural affirmation of this in Rm. 8: 26-27, where Paul notes that there are times when the Spirit prays for us "with groanings which cannot be expressed in speech." It is most reassuring to know that we have been given such a magnificent Helper, ever close at hand, to even direct our prayer when we do not know how to pray.
As with all other gifts, the more one uses this one, the stronger it grows. I've spoken through the years with many people who once had the gift while they were in a charismatic prayer group, but left it behind as they stopped attending prayer meetings. One need not be a practicing member of a pentecostal prayer group to receive this gift (although a Life in the Spirit Seminar in a charismatic group can serve as an excellent introduction to it). Because the prayer language is for the spiritual growth of the individual, I believe this particular manifestation of glossalalia is available to all Christians. The other manifestations of glossalalia, as with the other charismatic gifts, may be available to only a few and then at only certain times and in special circumstances.
In their excellent book on Christian prayer and commitment, Friendship With Jesus (Dove Publications, 1974), Joseph Lange, OSFS, and Anthony Gushing suggest the following approach to asking for and receiving the gift of tongues:
Tongues as a gift, a sign, a practice.
The Gift of Tongues, by R.H. Johnston
The Gift of Tongues, by Jim Scully
Speaking in Tongues This article has an Imprimatur!
Reflection and Discussion
1. What questions, comments, feedback do you have about this conference?
2. Have you experienced the gift of tongues in your prayer life? At other times? What consequences seem to ensue from it?
Well, I guess I'll go first.
"The CSI views this gift as more in the service of prayer and personal holiness than ministry to the community, and I'm inclined to agree."
The thought that crossed my mind concerning the above was that it is the gift to ourselves... ministering to ourselves rather than the community as in the other charismatic gifts. In other words we are part of the "body" and just as the other gifts build up the rest of the community (church,body)so the prayer language builds US up.
Phil, I like the way you explained the distinctions among the three different kinds of "tongues". I never was real clear on that.
I used to have friends (way back when).. a couple..the man "prophecied" in tongues, and his wife interpreted. They used to do this all the time for me. I still have many typed out pages of personal "prophecies". No prophecy in the sense of telling me what or what not do do, but prophecy in the sense of building me up and for guidance.
I received the prayer language type of tongues in about '74 while taking a Life in the Spirit seminar.. before the actual laying on of hands to receive the Spirit. I used it very much in the 70's and early 80's but over the years since then have used it very little. I kind of quit using the gift when it seemed I was saying the same sylbybles over and over and I got tired of it.
Sometimes I still do spontaneously use the prayer language, but have gone thru periods when I wondered if it was the real thing, or if it really did any good. So your discussion on this has renewed my interest in my prayer language.
A common (?) fear I sometimes have is that the "D" is in on it. (I don't even like saying it.. the devil) But generally, in the past it has been helpful and healing the way Phil describes it. It helps to clear my mind, if you will, so that the Holy Spirit can speak. For instance I will pray in the prayer language, pause, and then I get "something" in English.
Sometimes I wonder what the scripture means that says in the Love chapter, that all things pass away, including "tongues". The only thing that remains is love. Is there a time when one can/should stop praying in tongues?
Phil says: "The mysterious syllables and their rhythms seem to awaken the mind and heart, and bring balance and wholeness to one's life. Through this gift, the Holy Spirit ministers to us all through the day, keeping us centered and protecting us from dark influences. It seems as though the Spirit regulates one's breath and vibrates the inner energy centers through the medium of these sounds and syllables. It also often happens that after a time of praying in tongues, new insights come into the mind, and deep appreciations of God's presence in one's life."
The above quote gives me a new slant on it all..and I can surely use thoses things right now, ie new insights.
I experienced the prayer language back in the 1970's as well, when I was involved in charismatic prayer meetings. There were a couple different times when it was an important part of my prayer. The first time was after having a very close friend who had the gift and was very free in starting to sing in her prayer language, sometimes softly to herself while we were together, and sometimes during a time of prayer. I didn't feel that freedom, and was reluctant to explore that form of prayer. But finally I let go and just prayed in whatever sylables came out, and it was an incredibly wonderful experience, in which I felt the Spirit's presense very strongly. But, wanting to be like my friend (I was in my teens at the time), I occasionally tried to force it, and that felt wrong and evil and scared me away from the gift for a few years. At a later time, after much prayer and soul searching, I again started to use the gift, and again found it a great help. I'm not sure what caused me to drift away from it after that, unless perhaps it was because I drifted away from the charismatic renewal. When I'd think back on that period of my life, I'd feel embarrassed, as though I had tried to conger up a gift that wasn't mine. But in reading this description of the different types of tongues, one of which is a personal prayer language, I realize that perhaps where I was back then was okay, and that perhaps I've put aside something that could still be a means of prayer and growth. In fact, being at a more mature place in my life, perhaps I wouldn't be so tempted to try to do it to prove something to myself or to get a certain feeling, etc. But there's still the same self-consciousness I've always had, where I become over-concerned with what I'm doing and how I'm doing it and wondering if I'm doing it right, etc. This got in my way in the past, and is still something I struggle with, so it remains to be seen if I'll let myself open up enough to see what part in my life a personal prayer language might have today. It might help if I stop thinking of the term "speaking in tongues" and think of "personal prayer language"; then I won't wonder if I'm "doing it right".
Katy, I don't think evil spirit comes into play when we're focused on God, surrender, praise, etc. The point you made about "constant syllable" is also nothing to be concerned about. I think the syllables do what they're supposed to do and if there is repetition, then so be it. Note the sounds associated with the chakras on this page. What I've come to see through the years is that the prayer tongues makes use of all these symbols in just the right way to harmonize our energies with the movements of the Holy Spirit. So if a syllable is repeating often, it could be that the Spirit is working with this sound to bring release or balance to a part of our nature.
Peggy, it's understandable that one is somewhat self-conscious about speaking in tongues, especially with others. Personally, I prefer to do this as part of private prayer--therefore, closing the door to my room and praying in secret to God, as Jesus taught. There are many opportunities to do this through the day. After awhile, one quits caring about what's going on and just gives utterance as though it were the most natural thing in the world. Let us know how it goes as you give this a try again.
Well, I tried the prayer language last night as I read through my normal evening readings. I just had a desire to try it and did. I had a wonderful feeling of happiness, and a sense that Jesus' Spirit, Who is always with me, was praying to the Father through me. I had a strong sense of the Spirit as Advocate. I decided to try this more often throughout the day, but haven't quite figured out how to go about this. My first thought this morning was that I'd try it in the shower, where I'd have some privacy. But I felt like I'd be trying to turn on my prayer language like I'd turn on the water, and it would become more of a thing I do to make myself feel good, or a technique I'm trying to master, rather than an opportunity for the Spirit to pray through me. In praying in a prayer language throughout the day, is it something that can be done as you go about your normal activities, or is it necessary to get quiet and relaxed first, so the prayer can just come out? Or perhaps it's a bit of both. I find myself wanting more of the prayerfulness I had with it last night, but not sure how to develop the prayer language without making it a technique. But then again, there's nothing wrong with trial and error, and perhaps that's the only way I'll learn what does and doesn't work. Just thinking as I type, after a short night and a long day; a dangerous combination!!!
Peggy, the prayer language can be "spoken" any time after one learns how this works -- i.e., how to "yield" to the syllables. That doesn't make it prayer any more than saying a Hail Mary is prayer. Giving utterance in the context of prayer as you described is usually the best way to "pray" in tongues. In time, the gift spontaneously suggests itself during prayer and even during the day outside of formal prayer times. If that's not happening, however, and you want to give utterance anyway, go ahead, especially if you offer it to God as prayer. Only don't force it. Tongues have a way of coming and going in a prayer period and beyond, as the Spirit directs. To persist in willfully giving utterance won't likely do any harm, except that it might stir things up inside uncomfortably. Just try to keep things in a prayerful context when you try it, and if it suggests itself spontaneously outside of formal prayer, give utterance until the impulse to do so diminishes. Then listen for a message in your thoughts, or for gentle guidance in your thinking and desiring.
I think that praying in tongues in the shower is good, if you do it in the context of prayer, of course. We can pray anywhere, right. Water is a great spiritual medium. I once read an article about how the angels talk to us in the shower. I often get "insights", etc. then and it also "washes away" negative vibes, they say.
Phil, what about "intention" when praying in tongues? I've been hearing a lot about the power of "intention" lately. Before one starts to pray in tongues should we say "well now this praying is for such and such or for so and so"? Or just let it be general or as the Spirit wills? Also are you saying we should not "will", or decide to pray when you said we shouldn't "force" it? It should always be spontaneous?
So when you say, "To persist in willfully giving utterance won't likely do any harm, except that it might stir things up inside uncomfortably." what exactly do you mean?
Also thanks for the chakra link! Very interesting.
Phil, what about "intention" when praying in tongues? I've been hearing a lot about the power of "intention" lately. Before one starts to pray in tongues should we say "well now this praying is for such and such or for so and so"?
Yes, what about those people on the Jonah team who prayed over me? Remember....they asked me if it would be alright if they prayed in tongues? This would be an example of intention as Katy asked about. Their intention was to pray for my needs.
Also, a friend of mine has a sister who seems to have the gift of prophecy. She will tell my friend how something is going to come out. And she (correctly) predicted the date that my friend was going to receive her adopted baby. I don't know how she goes about using this gift for the good of the community. I don't know how often she shares her gift. I would think it would be difficult to know how to use a gift like that.
Hi, all. I was rereading conference 6, and a question occurred to me. In step 4 on how to receive the gift of tongues, it says, "Open your mouth and speak out, your mind and heart on him. Speak out in anything but your native language. Let the Spirit form the language, the syllables." Then it says, "If after a few minutes Jesus has not given you this gift, ..." The question that came to my mind was, if a person is opening their own mouth and speaking out with their own voice, how would they know whether or not Jesus had given them the gift? Would it be by the fruits of the experience (a sense of peace and the presence of God, etc), or is their some other way of discerning whether not the gift has been given? What would it be like for someone who opened their mouth and spoke out not in their native language to whom Jesus had NOT given the gift? Would there be a difference in the way the syllables were said, or would the speaker just feel like it was an effort or like they were just making noises, with no sense of prayer or God's presence? But then again, if the prayer language can be used throughout the day, I would imagine there wouldn't always be a strong sense of peace associated with it if one was in the middle of some kind of activity. Or if there is always a sense of peace or release, could there be a danger of using the prayer language for the good feeling rather than for prayer? Thoughts? Comments?
Really good questions, Peggy. Sounds like something I would have asked......
Katy, no intention is necessary when praying in tongues. Here we surrender everything, trusting that the Spirit will direct the prayer to wherever it is needed--ourselves, loved ones, even places on this earth where our prayer helps to unlock a movement of Spirit in some mysterious way. If intentions suggest themselves spontaneously, then that's fine, but there's no need to try to make that happen.
Anne, I think when the Jonah team asked to pray in tongues with you, the intention was already established by the context (praying for your healing). What they probably wanted was to open themselves as fully as possible to the intercession of the Spirit in your behalf. They were also checking to see if praying in tongues wouldn't be a turn-off for you, I'd guess.
Re. prophecy: it's a much broader gift than foretelling the future. In fact, that's a very small part of it. As with the O.T. prophets, it's much more about speaking a message from God to the community, generally to encourage, but often to reprove and correct as well. I found this web page to provide a good teaching on this charismatic gift. You can see why Paul placed such value on prophecy in his writings.
Peggy, I think you're making some good distinctions in your questioning. Obviously, anyone can open their mouths and blather syllables, even while praying, but that is not necessarily the gift of tongues. The suggestion in Step 4 is meant to be a catalyst for the gift, but it is not necessarily the gift. I think in your sharing above you noted some of the qualities that come with the gift: the peace, for example, and the openness to God that ensues. As with all the spiritual gifts, one learns when one is just doing one's thing--going through the motions--or expressing a movement of the Spirit. The latter has a distinctive feel about it, no matter what gift we're speaking of--sort of an effortlessness as one follows the lead of the Spirit. Same goes for speaking in tongues: we all have to go through a period of testing the gift . . . trying it out . . . learning how it works and how to use it. The beauty, here, is that the Spirit teaches us how to do all this so that, in time, we learn to be attuned to the promptings for tongues, to give utterance, and to stop when the movement passes on its own. All a dance, of sorts, I suppose (to use a feminine image ).
This is a great discussion. I can only affirm what Phil has said about the gift of tongues. It has been a great gift in my prayer life for over 30 years.
There is a thread from 5 or 6 years ago on the old Shalomplace Bulletin Boards that some may want to read by clicking here .
Also, on the current discussion board, I started a thread entitled Are Contemplation, Glossolalia and other prayer gifts for everyone? . In that thread we considered:
You can reach that thread by clicking here and you may need to scroll down through that thread to find those parts of the discussion that would most interest you, because it is a rather wide-ranging discussion.
In many ways, the gift of tongues is like saying the rosary, and I've often wondered if the rosary devotion didn't arise to compensate for its absence in the Church. While saying a rosary, one isn't consciously, rationally following the meaning of the words of all those Hail Mary's. After awhile, they just sort of pray themselves, and you follow along on the beads to keep track. Your mind is "somewhere else," maybe on the intention you made before saying the decade of the rosary, or on the mystery you're supposed to be considering. Often, it's just sort of in "neutral," then we catch ourselves and "try" to force it to do something "spiritually productive." What I've found is that staying in that "neutral" place is often an opening to contemplative prayer -- a gentle resting in God's loving presence.
I think part of the reason people like the rosary is because it does give them a break from discursive reflection. All those "Hail Mary's" eventually calm the mind and massage the will into an openness to the Spirit. Often, people like the contemplative rest that comes when completing a rosary.
Maybe this can help those who wonder what glossalalia is all about to get a better idea of the experience. It's much like saying those Hail Mary's with the mind in neutral, or perhaps the mind being led to pray for one thing, or consider another. The mind and will are not "leading" in the prayer process; they're following a deeper movement.
Maybe this can help those who wonder what glossalalia is all about to get a better idea of the experience. It's much like saying those Hail Mary's with the mind in neutral, or perhaps the mind being led to pray for one thing, or consider another. The mind and will are not "leading" in the prayer process; they're following a deeper movement. Makes sense?
Yes, Phil, it really does. Thanks so much for the additional explanation.
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