I’ll start this off with a confession of sorts. Despite growing up in a devoutly Pentecostal home, I had never heard the term “glossolalia” until a few years ago when my pastor mentioned it. I have always heard the phenomenon described simply as “speaking in tongues.”
This is a subject that makes me very apprehensive, mainly because the one sin that the Bible mentions as unforgivable is blasphemy of the Holy Ghost. Since speaking in tongues is considered evidence of the Holy Ghost residing within a person, I find it difficult to discuss without treading carefully. While I’m not even sure what the definition of blasphemy would be in this instance, I want to be certain that I never do it.
The churches that I grew up in and around were full of people who spoke in tongues. Because I was related to or knew most of these people in settings outside the church, I didn’t question the authenticity of what they were doing. I knew in my heart that my own mother would never have dreamed of doing something for attention or show. She hated crowded places so much that she would have anxiety attacks and leave shopping centers before selecting any items to purchase, yet there she would be, in front of the entire congregation, dancing, weeping, and speaking in tongues.
I remember a preacher who used to visit our church regularly. He would often get anointed (that’s what we called it when a preacher was really getting into his sermon) and seamlessly alternate between English and an unknown language. I found it utterly fascinating.
The most personal experience that I ever had with speaking in tongues occurred several years ago at my grandparent’s church, where I was visiting for their annual Thanksgiving meeting. As the congregation filled the sanctuary with music and song during a morning service, one lady at the front of the building began speaking in tongues. When the song ended, she continued speaking aloud. Because the practice was so highly respected, the church members became very quiet and only uttered an occasional exclamation of praise. This went on for several minutes before she walked off of the stage and straight towards me. She stood before me, looked me in the eyes, hugged me, and returned to her seat – speaking in tongues all the while. I felt like I had received some kind of special blessing and was moved to tears.
Other denominations are quick to write off the whole concept as meaningless, often quoting verses that seem to imply that speaking in tongues has no value if there is no one to interpret the words. The Baptist school that I attended was quick to point that out on several occasions, and we even had a teacher get up and disparage the practice while giving her testimony during one of our weekly chapel services. I can understand the viewpoint about interpretation, but speaking in tongues is described in the Bible as having conversation directly with God.
For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. – I Corinthians 14:2 (NIV)
I never once heard anything interpreted, even though I have heard that some churches have interpreters. Regardless, there were times when I felt something indescribable while hearing an unknown language. My father has surmised that there is a heavenly language embedded deep within our minds that only some of us are able to access.
I told Dad the other day that I will always be Pentecostal in my heart. Although I don’t attend a Pentecostal church or believe in some of the things that I was taught as a child, I will always feel connected to the worship style of the congregations that I grew up in. Their level of enthusiasm for praising God physically, emotionally, and linguistically is something that I will always crave and never forget.