This post is part of a series. For the whole story/thought-process, start here.
Here’s something else that happened in London, that’s kind of funny, but which takes some serious explaining, since I’m pretty sure The Readership is diverse enough that you won’t all immediately resonate with what I’m talking about.
When I moved to London, I, Miss Evangelical, went to work for three Charismatic Churches.
In my recently completed Spiritual Formation class, we delved into 6 discernible “streams” or traditions within the Christian faith. These traditions are related to, but basically independent of, denominations, and aren’t mutually exclusive of each other, but, although they operate best when balanced, usually a Christian will exhibit or focus on one more than the others. In my case, my primary stream was Evangelicalism, and the one with which I had the least experience was the Charismatic.
It’s hard to make really accurate generalisations, but for the purposes of my life and this story, let’s just say that the Evangelical stream tends to major on words, beliefs, thought-processes and even (despite public stereotypes to the contrary) intellectualism. The Charismatic tradition, on the other hand, tends to emphasise faith, experience (preferably somewhat miraculous or–as it might be described in some circles, paranormal–experience), and feelings. Although these traditions aren’t incompatible, sometimes people within them seem to think they are and view the others with suspicion. I certainly did.
It didn’t help that, never having been to a charismatic church service as a child, I had no way to evaluate the mysterious things I heard about such events except on the basis of the wife of one of our church members, who sat in the back of the sanctuary and was always the only person who raised her hands heavenward (very enthusiastically, I might add) during the singing. Also unhelpful (probably especially to her) was the ribbing she got about it from her husbands’ friends after church each Sunday.
For about six months before I even arrived in London, I was in contact with many charismatics, getting more and more freaked out by stories about people getting “slain in the Spirit” (essentially passing out in the throes of religious experience–sort of like a divine anesthesia, so God can really work on something in you, as I understand it), vomiting, hysterical laughter . . . it made the signature spiritual gift–“speaking in tongues” (that is, speaking in an heavenly language, or an earthly language that one has never learned before)–sound almost normal. Working with charismatic-evangelical churches in London was kind of an adjustment, but in the end it turned out not to be as alarming as I had feared. I had some mild “experiences” (one time I felt Jesus’ hands on my shoulders when someone was praying for me, and you all know I have dreams; sometimes they mean something. Other times, not so much) and I resisted all attempts to force me to have such experiences. Someone tried to push me to the ground once (to be fair–not from my church, but a visiting group), but I would have none of it. To this day I have never “spoken in tongues.” I came to believe those things legitimately (and sometimes illegitimately) happened–but not to me. I had mixed feelings about whether or not I wanted those experiences for myself. However, that didn’t keep other people from wanting me to have these types of experiences.
One Sunday I arrived in church with my flute to play along with the other musicians who made up that week’s “worship team.” (Sometimes I wonder about that term, but we’ll leave it alone for now.) I used to fast fairly regularly (I was more comfortable with the Contemplative stream than the Charismatic), so I had been fasting, intending to break my fast at lunch time. Unfortunately I hadn’t bargained on Communion (the Eucharist). In some churches, this commemoration of Christ’s physical sacrifice for humanity is enacted every week, but in the churches I frequent, it happens only once a month, and so sometimes, if one is not paying attention, it can take one by surprise.
Now let me ask you. What do you do if you’re fasting for God and then the commemoration of His Son’s death comes up and involves eating? I suspect churches like the Roman Catholic church have some sort of guidelines for such things, but in places known as “free churches,” as far as I know there are no such ground rules.
I decided I needed to take Communion.
But there was a problem. If Jesus was really God in human flesh, then miracles are certainly possible, but regular physical, scientific processes are also validated, and what happened when I ate that miniscule piece of bread and drank that little sip of . . . well, watered-down fruit juice, in this case . . . was that my stomach acids, which had been waiting for something to work on for at least twelve hours already, began to churn. But they really didn’t have enough to digest, so when I got up to play my flute on the last song, the simple blowing of breath across the mouthpiece was just enough exertion to make me lightheaded.
Suddenly, I realised I was about to pass out. My eyes grew dark, my ears pounded and everything sounded as if I were under water. I thought, “If I fall, I’m going down those little steps headfirst, and my skirt’s going to flip up. If the microphone doesn’t get me first.” I grabbed onto a low wall next to me and hung on, arms crossed over the top of it, with my head on my forearms, for dear life. I really could hear almost nothing else but a rushing sound, and I couldn’t see even that much, but I didn’t ever quite go unconscious, so I was still thinking. What I was thinking was:
“Everyone in this building is going to think I’m finally having a ‘touch of the Spirit.’ No one is going to realise there is anything wrong.”
The final song ended–without the flute. The benediction was spoken. Everyone walked to the back of the room, where the kitchen pass-through window was, to get their tea and biscuits. (That’s cookies, for us US folk.) I was still holding onto the partition. After a little while, someone came back toward the front of the room. “Jenn?” someone asked. “Are you okay?”
“NO!” I said. There were hands unfastening my arms from the partition and leading me, blind, down the platform steps to a chair.
“What happened?” asked someone else. I was starting to draw a crowd. My vision was returning, and words were beginning to sound like words. I told them what had happened.
“Somebody give her some tea and biscuits!” someone said. Someone else brought me the entire box. Technically, I wasn’t done with the fast I had set for myself, but I stuffed those biscuits in my face like they were the last food on earth.
“Wow,” said yet another someone, a little disappointment in their voice. “We had no idea. We really thought you were finally having a touch of the Spirit.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I know.”