Slain in the Spirit
By Nate Cull
After ’speaking in tongues’, one of the classic Pentecostal manifestations is ‘being slain in the spirit’.
It’s a horrible name for what is actually a very beautiful and normal experience.
Unfortunately, because it is an experience which can be stage-managed to look very visually spectacular, it’s also something which many Pentecostal preachers turn into a demeaning circus act, and because of that it’s become a symbol of everything wrong - everything loud, crass, overbearing, gullible and greasy - about Pentecostalism.
This is why I want to talk a little bit about the experience - at least my spectrum of experiences which include this - and explain how and why it works, as far as I’ve figured it out. Because this thing, even more than ‘tongues’, happens a lot in what we do here in the little church in the slum, and it should not be something to be frightened of, nor should it be something to be taken advantage of.
[Nate's brother Paul's church inside..and Paul at front door]
This is it in a nutshell: sometimes, when you pray and ‘the power’ appears, your legs get a bit wobbly and you have to sit down rather suddenly.
If this happens fast, you fall down like a sack of potatoes. If this happens slowly, and you take a little forethought, you sit down before you fall down, and that works just as well.
That’s really all there is to it.
Why does it happen? That I can’t tell you because I don’t know for sure. I suspect that an honest answer would involve science we don’t possess yet in the early 21st century; words such as ‘biological energy fields’ or ‘auras’ come to mind. The New Age folks are a bit further ahead in terms of putting names to some of these forces. We Pentecostals can see them happening, and have produced our own strange little jargon, but for the most part it’s like the Wright Brothers trying to name the jet stream before the aileron is built. This is an inexact science because we just don’t know what we’re doing half the time, and that’s why I’m really interested in digging up all the books I can that have been written by Christian mystics in the last 2,000 years - and the New Agers - because they’ve seen some of this stuff before.
What *appears* to happen is that some kind of energy field is generated during the process of praying. Yes, really. You can’t see it as such, but you can sometimes feel its effects on your biological (or etheric, perhaps) body.
It feels sometimes like a cool wind, a warm fluid, or that feeling you get when you put two magnets together. In fact magnetic would be a great word for what it feels like, and not perhaps coincidentally, that’s a word used a lot by spiritual people of varying faiths.
What this stuff is, who knows. But somehow, sometimes it’s there. Perhaps it’s always there and we only ever sometimes feel it. It feels in these experiences as if it is condensing around us, sometimes as if it is emanating from inside. Either way, there comes a sense of something getting ‘charged up’.
It can be transferred often by physical touch, and that’s where the ancient Christian doctrine of ‘laying on of hands’ seems to be very relevant.
It is sensitive to thought, perhaps made of the same stuff thought is. That’s why it appears when we pray, because prayer is nothing but directed thought. The quality of the idea or person that you’re directing your thought toward matters very much, in the same way that it matters to what station you tune a TV. What you put out your mental feelers toward, you ‘touch’ somehow.
The point of Christian prayer is to get in touch with the ‘Holy’ Spirit, the real one, the good one, and not any of the others which might be out there in the ether, stuck between stations causing static.
This is why it’s also important that if you do ‘lay hands’ on people, that both you and they are okay with this happening. Because it’s a meaningful act; you’re intending to transfer some kind of power, and you want to make sure it’s the right kind. Generally speaking, the ‘right’ Spirit is very careful about requesting permission before doing anything, and it’s a good habit to get into. ‘First do no harm’ and all that.
And besides that, just walking up and shoving your hot hands on someone’s head or shoulders without asking is downright rude and more than a little creepy.
(All this hand-touching stuff is very much more part of the Pentecostal and Charismatic religious vocabulary than the more mainstream churches, which tend to be more about listening to speeches and participating in abstract rituals. Not that those aren’t interesting in their own way. In New Zealand, I actually have an Anglican church as my main Sunday one. I’m an odd bird of many feathers.)
Anyway: you can transfer this ’stuff’ by touch, but touch is not required. Sometimes just being in the same room is enough. Sometimes it seems to ‘just happen’ by itself. We don’t know how it works, is the point, other than a few ground rules we’ve observed.
And really the only thing that can sum it all up is: sometimes, when you pray, your legs get wobbly.
(This is perhaps a source of the Christian connection between prayer and ‘being on your knees’. Prayer is not about subservience or being anybody’s slave, and your physical attitude generally has no connection with how well you can pray. It’s a mental thing. Nor do you need to close your eyes. But closing your eyes can help focus your mind, and if you think you might be going to fall down, being on your knees first is probably a sensible precaution.
Sometimes, more extreme things happen during Pentecostal prayer: healings and visions are common, but in the last few decades some pretty out-there things have occurred, including literal resurrections, glowing light, and materialisations of things like gold dust. For a documentary on some of these strange phenomena, I recommend the independent film 'Finger of God', which has some of these on DVD.