Tongues of Fire, Part 1

Tongues of Fire, Part 1

My mother didn’t wear a head-covering in church; our family wasn’t quite that deep into fundamentalist Christianity, but it wasn’t an uncommon sight at the churches we flitted through after Tree of Life closed down.

The woman who sat in front of us at our current church-of-the-moment not only wore a lacy doily thing over her graying hair, but danced in the aisles during worship. Even this wasn’t new; at every church we’d tried out over the past two years, at least four people per service danced in the aisles, swooned in rapturous ecstasy, or hauled out their worship banners, long, colorful ribbons fastened onto dowel rods, which they’d twirl and wave as they ran – yes, ran –  around the sanctuary.

These banners were serious business – no slap-dash job, these. Festooned with Christian symbols cut out of felt – crosses, doves, crowns – worship banners were almost holy relics themselves. I imagined these worshipers, women mostly, at Jo-Ann Fabrics, searching through reams of cloth, each color significant, heavy with prophetic symbolism; and later, laboring over sewing machines and hot glue guns, lining up a strip of God-ordained edging flush with the edge of their banner; such care – these things were offerings to the Lord and no trifling matter.

I felt simultaneously embarrassed for these people – the runners, the dancers, the banner-wavers – and somehow left out. Speaking in tongues was a given at our churches; no matter what other eccentricities were displayed, tongues was a constant. Whether aisle-dancing or waving their banners or slapping tambourines off-beat, everyone spoke in tongues as well.  Except for me.

“Andy must not want to be filled with the Holy Spirit,” Aunt Sandy had said about me once, at the home of some friends of hers we were visiting. These friends were a freakish family of God-knows-how-many kids, even the youngest of whom was apparently filled to the brim with Holy Ghost. The 6-year-old, bold with the light of God, reached up and laid her hand on my 13-year-old head, and spoke some blessing over me in tongues.

“I never said that,” I mumbled at Aunt Sandy, as the 6-year-old babbled with the authority of the Almighty and the adults looked on in pride.

“If you didn’t resist, you’d be filled already,” said Aunt Sandy, shaking her head.

“I think it’s just pride,” my mother said, sitting next to Sandy on the sofa.

“Well, we just rebuke that spirit of pride in the name of Jesus,” Aunt Sandy said. She wasn’t really my aunt, but my mother’s best friend for years, and she had been spending an awful lot of time with us during her divorce from “Uncle” Barry. I’m pretty sure I remember the fact that God hated divorce being drilled into my head at some church service, but all I know is that Aunt Sandy wasn’t sinning,  according to Extenuating Circumstances, Chapter 5, verses 21 through Whatever.

What neither Aunt Sandy nor my mother knew was that I did, in fact, desperately want to be filled with the Holy Spirit. I wanted my eyes to roll back into my head as I was overcome with the weight of God’s love; I wanted to collapse to the floor of the church in an insensate heap, laying there throughout the service as worshipers waved their hands at me, blessing me, encouraging the Holy Spirit to lay heavily upon me. I wanted visions, of seven oil lamps burning in seven lampstands, of God as a mighty, radiant Lion, resting upon a golden throne, with the pillars of Earth under his feet and a host of angels bowing in adoration before him. Because it was a thing to be attained, this Holy Ghost baptism. Without it you were incomplete as a Christian. Oh sure, the saving grace of Jesus was enough, technically, but with the upgrade to being Baptized in the Holy Spirit, you were imbued with nearly limitless power – to resist sin, to rebuke demons, maybe even to perform miracles! Yes, with this Holy Spirit power cancers would shrink at the name of Jesus! Addictions would be broken instantaneously with the laying on of hands! Demons would be driven forth from people, shrieking and cursing Jesus’s name, but you would drive them into the Outer Darkness with nothing but the name of Jesus! And best of all, every Sunday at church during worship, you could be completely enveloped in God’s love, in a gauzy, cottony bed of pure communion with the Creator, which proved that you were humble enough, broken enough, contrite enough to warrant His undivided attention.

But I guess I wasn’t.


To be continued…