17 May 2010

Ease on down the road

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.

With Pentecost coming this weekend, the First Reading always reminds me of my time as a Charismatic. It was my mother and father that took me to my first Catholic Charismatic prayer meeting, but I continued on with the group long after my parents made the unlikely transition to Third Order Carmelites. Every year, as I'm sharply reminded of the gymnasium prayer meetings, I struggle to understand exactly what I was involved in.

Apparently, even though the term "slain in the Spirit" post-dated my time in the movement, these experiences happened without the formal definition, along with speaking in tongues, intercessory prayer, laying on of hands, interpretation of tongues, etc. While I certainly believe the Holy Spirit can give His gifts to whomever He chooses, I still question why more people aren't slain at Mass or why the Charismatics seem to be the only ones speaking/praying in tongues?

Over the years, I've asked a few priests about the things I experienced while I was a Charismatic and have yet to receive a good answer. One priest did tell me something along the lines of the addage, "holiness attracts." In this case, things that are holy shouldn't confuse or make one feel uneasy. Considering the confusion and discomfort I have about these events so many years later, does that imply they were brought about by group dynamics, my own zeal, desire to be part of the group or something else? It's not usual advice from a priest to suggest you "trust your gut."

Back then, trusting my gut told me that I was part of a group who "got it." We had special insight. We were alive in the Spirit, especially compared to more traditional Catholics. But, just because it had a Catholic label didn't mean it was a good place to be. Several close friends, members of the "youth group" to which I belonged, became pregnant while in high school. Adult leaders dated youth members. We got together to watch "left behind" style movies that clashed with Church teaching. Few kids held on to their faith.

It was during this time that my father asked me if I wanted to attend one of the Charismatic group functions because of my desire "to be with Jesus" or to be with my friends. I didn't lie; I told him to be with friends. There's no doubt in my mind that my friends were there for the same reason. As my kids get older, I think I will be cautious about them getting involved in similar Catholic social groups. While I want my kids to incorporate religion into all aspects of their lives and to share it with their friends, my experience is that some of these groups tend to be heavy on the social and very light, superficial, or even plain wrong, on Catholic teaching.

I left the Charismatics, just as my parents had done, for the Carmelites. If it is at all possible that Catholicism can be thought of as linear, I moved from one end of the spectrum to the other. Something about being quiet and still made more sense to me. Ironically, I learned I really didn't know much about my faith, God or myself. However, I still haven't figured out if my time as a Charismatic was part of the path or a tangent.


ArchAngel's Advocate said...

Having gone thru the Charismatic "experience" myself, I know what you are talking about. Someone told me (can't remember who) that the Movement was for "newbies" to a relationship with Christ, lots of razzle-dazzle (Kind of Sesame Street), but to have a more mature relationship one had to "grow-up". I discovered that a lot of the Charismatic groups got frozen at a particular stage of spiritual development (I found the same "frozen" state in many 12 step groups), and many of them got that "special knowledge" perspective that I find in the writings of the Gnostics. When I tried to discuss more developed spiritualities, like Ignatius Loyola or John of the Cross I received either blank stares or that "I know better than you" look. Thank God I found more mature truth seekers in my life!

swissmiss said...

AA: I know what you're saying. I've heard several people express that same thing, that Charismatics consist more of those starting on the spiritual path, although I know of a friend of my father's that has been seriously and sincerely involved in the movement for 40 years. For me, I found it hard to hear God over all the noise...but I tend to not be a good listener anyway ;)

Anonymous said...

Like you, I was part of a prayer group for about 5 years. My Mom was dying, I couldn't be with her, so it was great to find spiritual support. After a time, I became involved in a relationship with one of the leaders -- an older man - and we began an emotional affair which lasted many years. I trusted him, and thought it was OK, but now realize how wrong the whole thing was. It almost destroyed my marriage, but thank God, my husband and I will be married 32 years this July. I left the group after the man and his wife moved away, and after the group went off on what I felt were really hinky tangents, such as excessive emphasis on Our Lady of Medjugorje, the writings of Vassoula Ryden, and other things. Like you, I still don't know whether it was something on the path or a bump in the road.

swissmiss said...

Anon: I think the emotional aspect of this movement tends to blur things in many different areas...relationships, ecumenism, etc. Sorry to hear of your bad experience, but congrats on 32 years of marriage. Wow!

Adoro said...

I did the Charismatic "thang" for awhile, too. While I found the Life in the Spirit seminar helpful, ultimately it drew me to Adoration. Then I was invited to a prayer meeting, maybe some 6 weeks later, went, and kept going for a few months. But I avoided the loud annoying music at the beginning so that I could ender in the silent contemplative phase of the meeting (Bible reading). I noticed that their "prophecies" had to do suspiciously with whatever was going on in the Gospel over a series of Sundays, and actually, the main themes never changed.

And when I read something from Jeremiah 9 (literally I couldn't tear away from it), I was given looks that you would NOT believe.

I guess the more difficult passages of the Bible, the stuff that calls us to deeper conversion is not actually acceptable in Charismatic "prayer".

But the last straw came later and I left the group in the same way I had come...by floating away.

Give me time with Our Lord in silence any day over the raucous "music" of guitars and tambourines of the 70's. At least that time in our history had an excuse: the pot smoke was pretty thick in those days! But we modern Catholics don't have any excuse for ugliness! lol

Just not my thing. I do know some very solid, very knowledgeable Catholics of the charismatic persuasion, but the entire "spirituality" still makes me itchy.

tantumblogo said...

Interesting that we've all had such similar experiences. I got involved in a Catholic charismatic group quite by accident. We were ostensibly doing Bible study, but it also had 'Life in the Spirit' elements. Anyway, one night they took me and a couple a few other novices out and had everyone pray over us and tried to get us to speak in tongues. They just wouldn't stop telling us to do it, so finally I just started faking. I know bits of Russian, Japanese, German, so I took syllables from words and threw them together to make up my 'tongue.' I kept trying to do it for a while, but it seemed so forced. I guess the Holy Spirit never quite got going in me....I don't know.

I concur that I have since moved on to what I feel, and pray, are more substantial spiritualities.