What It's Like to Speak
As the strange sounds rolled off my tongue, they sounded like mindless babble. So why did I feel a sense of inexplicable peace?
Doctors and lawyers do it. The attorney general of the United States does it. Even a few people in Hollywood do it.
They call it speaking in tongues. And it is no longer just for wild-eyed, tambourine-waving Pentecostals who gather in storefront churches in poor neighborhoods. This unusual form of Christian prayer--which sounds like mindless babbling--is upwardly mobile.
It happened to me in 1976 when I was an 18-year-old Southern Baptist. I'd never heard anyone from my tradition describe the experience, although a few preachers had suggested that tongues was "from the devil."
But then I read a book by an Episcopal priest named Dennis Bennett, who described being "baptized in the Holy Spirit" and telling his staid California congregation that he had spoken in tongues. He was given the boot, but his subsequent book "The Holy Spirit and You" introduced millions of Christians (including me) to this astounding new experience.
I decided to ask God to fill me with the Holy Spirit's power and give me the ability to pray in an unknown language. I wanted it because, in the Book of Acts, people often spoke in tongues when they initially received the Spirit.
And so, one hot summer evening in Atlanta, I sat on a concrete bench near a volleyball court and asked Jesus to perform this minor miracle. No fireworks went off, but I began to hear some simple phrases in my head. It seemed natural to say them, but I was hesitant.
Then I uttered a phrase something like this: "Keil ama tondo ramala indiksia."
I had no clue what I was saying. It sounded stupid.
"Ilia tondi lamatra silia contira sa ma."
Knowing that intelligent people don't sit around muttering to themselves in a strange language, I struggled with doubts. It felt foolish on one hand, yet at the same time there was a sense of inexplicable peace as the phrases poured out of me without any effort. It was almost like stepping out of a boat and walking on water.
That was the beginning. Since then, I've spoken in tongues many times: in the shower, in the car, sitting at my desk. Usually I have my eyes closed, but sometimes they're open. Wherever I am, when I'm speaking in tongues it feels like it's coming from the deepest part of my being. I am not out of control, and afterward I sometimes I feel a deep sense of satisfaction, as if I know God has heard me and He has answered.
I've been speaking in tongues for 27 years now. I've never done it on television, and don't ever plan to, because for me it's a very personal experience. Normally I pray this way when I am alone, though I will join in during prayer meetings where several people gather and speak in tongues.