I was going to write a post about glossolalia, but in my latest foray at Open Source Theology I remembered I had addressed the subject there. Here it is, from just over a year ago:
Has anyone has ever put forward a phenomenology or hermeneutics of tongues? My personal experience is pretty old, but here are my uninterpreted impressions:
Tongues-speakers claimed not to know the meaning of the words they were speaking (I certainly didn’t). “Interpretation” of tongues didn’t mean “translation”: it conveyed more the spirit of the tongue-encoded message rather than anything approaching the literal meaning. The interpretations always seemed rather generic, along the lines of “My children, I love you, be at peace with one another,” – that sort of thing. Most tongues-speakers seemed to share a common “dialect”: a cadence and pronunciation palette that sounded vaguely Latinate rather than, say, English or Semitic or Japanese.
“Groanings too deep for words” was part of the explicit rationale for the gift of tongues, placing it in the eschatological context of Romans 8. As a prayer language, tongues enabled the praying person to “pray the will of God” directly, unfiltered by human conscious awareness. In this regard there’s a certain similarity to the “automatic writing” techniques of 19th-century spiritualists, as well as the 20th-century dadaists and surrealists who were trying to open a direct channel to the subconscious. The praxis of tongues-speaking as I learned it called for attaining a kind of emotional neutrality, so that both the message and the accompanying affect could be attributed to the Holy Spirit. The actual speaking I’m sure I could do right now, though, without any sort of spiritual preparation or channeling of the Spirit – kind of like learning to ride a bicycle, I suppose.
I intend no criticism of tongues — just a description of the phenomenon. Is this still pretty much the story, or has the theory and practice changed significantly?
Originally I wrote this comment in a thread on preterism, which is an eschatological variant within Christianity. But now we’re talking about Lacan and the voice of the Other speaking the subject. Tongues-speaking is as good an example as I can think of, and it’s a practice I know not just in theory but through personal experience. Too bad I don’t have mastery of online recording technologies — I could cut a tongues track and paste it in here.