Betty Duffy

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Slain in the Spirit

Pedge and I went to a Catholic Women’s Conference this weekend. The very last speaker in the line-up was a member of the religious congregation, The Fathers of Mercy, who did healing ministry. By healing ministry, I mean the kind where you walk up to the altar, and someone prays over you, perhaps speaking in tongues, and you might be slain in the Spirit. Men stand behind you to catch you if you fall, and women comfort your tears if you have them.

We did not know that this heretofore staid women’s conference was going to turn into such a service, but we decided to give it a whirl. I should preempt the following account with the tidbit that I have been to a Charismatic healing Mass before. There’s a pocket of Charismatics here in Southeastern Indiana led by Father Gregory Bramlage, an unlikely Charismatic who has helped many members of his small rural Parish discover the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

I went to my first healing Mass thinking, “There are things in my life for which I could use some healing—I’m going to try this—but I AM NOT falling down, well, unless I can’t NOT fall down.”

The team of healers stands up around the altar waiting for the line of faithful to approach them, and they are Betty Homemaker, Sue Teacher, Jack Plumber, Mike Lawyer. As I stand up at the altar with Sue Teacher’s hands on my head, why not entertain, just for a moment, the belief that the Spirit has animated her heart, mind and hands and is permeating into my body, making my thighs and calves feel jittery, causing me to tighten my shoulders and close my eyes. It is filling my body with hot coffee, pouring it in from the toes, up to the top of my head, capping me in warm foam, sending a delightful jitter into all my nerves. I am not just a person who drinks the drink anymore. I am the vessel in which the drink is poured and I contain all the caffeinated, alcoholic stimulants in the world without ever taking a sip. Who would not want to avail themselves of this feeling? Why aren’t all the bored teenagers and lusty old men of the world lining up for this high? Why not roll over towards my husband in bed with me and say, “Hey, feel like getting slain in the Spirit tonight?” If he had felt what I just felt, he would not say no.

I want the Charismatic experience to be authentic. I long for some psychic subrealm that allows unselfconscious and physical communication between God and me. And if this communication can be won with third party intervention, this intermediary laying-on-of-hands, rather than by my own concentration and spiritual discipline, all the better.

Yet, I remain a skeptic. I held my ground. I did not fall down. Is the warmth of someone’s hands on my head enough to give me chills? Is the intimacy of this little woman whispering in my ear, “Come back to me, My Child,” enough to bring tears to my eyes?

The Father of Mercy said that two things occur that let us know the Spirit is working: warmth and tears. The tears are a sign of compunction—knowledge of our sins has pierced our hearts, punctured them, so to speak, and the tears are a fruit of the Spirit that confirm God has answered our prayers.

So Pedge and I watched as the Father of Mercy, Father Crotty, was his name, went down the row at the Women’s Conference, and EVERY SINGLE ONE of the faithful was slain in the spirit. Shoot.

Again, I approached the altar thinking, “I will not fall down.” And Father Crotty brought the Cross to my brow, and with his thumb on my forehead exerted enough force that had I room, I would have stepped back. Being that there was a chair behind me, I had no choice then but to fall into it. Slain in the Spirit, eh? I wanted to yell out: “This is a farce!”

We went back to our seats, and I confirmed with Pedge that he had also pushed on her forehead. “Aren’t you mad?” I asked. “I feel like any openness I had to this charism just went out the window.”

Pedge was circumspect, “I think it’s very possible that I have been healed of something in my life that needs healing and I just don’t know it yet.”

Father Crotty finished the healing portion of his ministry, and went on to explain that if we felt pressured, maybe we just need a little more docility to the Spirit. The Spirit has not been active in the Catholic Church like this for hundreds of years. It’s no wonder it seems foreign to us. We don’t recognize what the activity of the Holy Spirit is supposed to look like. We are stubborn and set against it. Maybe we need a little cajoling.

And I’ll admit, the idea that the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles like a flame on a candle wick is a little less believable than the idea that the Power of God made the Apostles drunk, speaking languages that they did not know, consuming them body and soul.

“Preparation,” said Father Crotty. “This day is about preparation. Don’t doubt just because you didn’t FEEL anything. The Holy Spirit has descended upon you, and you will understand later just how.”

Last night I sang my kids to sleep with the song “Our God is an Awesome God.” My own musical spirituality tends more towards “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence,” but one of my sons, the one who balks at making the Sign of the Cross, and says, “Stupid, stupid” when I sing “Hail Holy Queen,” requested it and knew every single word of this song having heard it only once, maybe twice.

“Thunder in his footsteps and lightning in his fists;” it makes God sound like a super hero, so I’m not surprised it stuck with him. Where I forgot the words, he filled in the lyrics, “…Not just putting on the ritz--I love that part. It makes me think of crackers,” he said. In some ways, it fits perfectly with his little boy perspective—but for him to sing, for ME to sing, with our hands and voices raised like this, not even making fun of anyone, is just shockingly, shockingly uncharacteristic.


TheSeeker said...

My mom is Pentecostal, and I've been to her church a few times. I tried to give it a chance.

I was very depressed at the time (going through a nervous breakdown actually), and the pastor's wife came up to me and told me that I had a demon sitting on my head harassing me...she prayed for me, and honestly even though I wasn't completely better, I did have some relief from that point on.

However, I could not deal with all the screaming and flailing that went on in that place. I remember a man putting his hand on my head and trying to force me down into the floor, with my mother behind me saying "It's okay, you can fall." I have never stood with so much force in my life. Another time a woman attached herself to my arm and just sat there shrieking in my ear. I never went back. At another similar church, I never even made it through the service: I was overwhelmed with this feeling of not-rightness, and I literally ran out crying.

I love the quiet dignity of the Catholic church. Charismatic teaching gives me the heebie-jeebies. The Holy Spirit is real, but He does not make me babble and fall...others may receive that, but not me.

mrsdarwin said...

I wish I'd known you when we were teenagers, Betty, and you could have supported me through all the charismatic liturgies I had to attend in those days.

Perhaps the charismatic movement is still in its adolescence and still in the throes of the growing pains that many later successful movements must go through, but the deep navel-gazing aspect of having to scrutinize your emotions to ascertain whether or not the Spirit is prompting any particular feeling is and was deeply alienating to me. The more open I was told to be, the more I watched myself to see how I was reacting, which was completely counter-productive.

Pentimento said...

My father was healed of Stage IV lung cancer 24 years ago through the intercession of a charismatic priest. He is in wonderful health now. That is my object lesson is that charism. I've never attended a healing Mass myself.

One of the most mysterious things to me about the visible and tangible effects of the Holy Spirit's presence is that they fall upon people who to me seem randomly chosen, or perhaps arbitrarily. It is not always the good Catholics or even the Christians at all who get healed or who receive the most evident gifts of the Spirit.

I love that you sang without irony later. Singing without irony has got to be one of the gifts of a loving Father.

Pedge said...

I love being a part of this conversation and I don't mean because my "name" is in the story. This is heightened conversation and it's beautiful. Blessings to all,

Betty Duffy said...

Seeker, I have heard of people, who, like you, mention being cured of demons or past sexual abuse issues, or even, as in Pentimento's father's case, great illnesses. I do believe in the power of God to heal. Though I did and still do have a few minor ailments, like plantar fasciitis, which apparently my faith was too weak to heal.

But I think Pentimento made THE point that MY faith isn't really a factor in whether or not God wants me to be healed. If this charism is real, it has to exist regardless of anything I do, whether or not I am "slain" or have any warm fuzzy feelings. In that sense, scrutinizing the authenticity of the experience does little good.

What concerns me most about this Movement is what Mrs Darwin mentions: the peer pressure and herd mentality. You see people going up again and again in the same service to be prayed over, because "it feels WONDERFUL!" (overheard). Something about that feels off--as though Christianity could somehow deliver this heroin high on demand. And what's wrong with me if I don't feel it? Does God love me less?

I think it becomes a stumbling block for more people than it actually heals. The girl I sponsored this year for RCIA, when I told her I'd been to a healing Mass said, "Oh no. I was hoping Catholics didn't do that." Like the Seeker, she came to Catholicism from a Pentecostal background, seeking the quiet dignity (beautifully put, Seeker) of our faith.

I do love it though that the Catholic Church has a place for all of these different charisms.

And you're right, Pentimento, about the singing. It felt like a gift.

Pentimento said...

I don't doubt that the charism is real, but it can be misconstrued, and not every time you get that warm fuzzy feeling is it the Holy Spirit at work. Likewise, not every time the Holy Spirit is at work in you do you ge tthat fuzzy feeling -- most times not. St. John of the Cross, after all, wrote extensively about the night of sense and the night of the soul, when one feels aboslute abandoment from God. He called this dreadful sense abandonement the work of the Holy Spirit, and the time at which God draws one cloer.

See also Ratzinger's 1989 Letter to the Bishops on Some Aspects of Christian Meditation:

Anonymous said...

Hello Betty,

I was at the same conference (April 17th) and had a very similar experience/thought-process i.e. "I am not going to sit down." I was also very surprised, happily at first, by the turn of events and, yet, struggled a bit with where to place it all after.

I'm seven months pregnant with our third child, so all I could think was "Please Lord, don't let me go into early labor!"--especially after hearing how Fr. discovered his charism: offering a simple, every-day blessing to a pregnant woman, who, thank God, in this case, went into early labor right then and there which ended up saving her baby's life since the cord was around the baby's neck. Praise God!

Anywho...I believe God continues to reveal Himself, of course, but I prefer for Him to reveal Himself as He wills, when He wills, and how He wills--without me seeking out consolations or anything other than the sacraments. Not that seeking healing would somehow be more our will than God's, but the boundary gets a bit blurry for me in this case. So, I credit Teresa of Avila for this good advice about erring on the side of caution. After a good many spiritually imprudent moments in my younger years, I'm a bit conservative now while also being happy that there are others of us with different temperments out there who have unique ways of relating to God's grace.

I too "gave it a whirl" and my heart was nearly beating out of my chest--interestingly, though, as soon as I neared the altar with Jesus exposed in the Blessed Sacrament the pounding of my heart settled totally (that for me was the most obvious healing, though I don't discount there may have been other, more subtle ones). Then, as soon as I got away from Jesus exposed, the beating picked back up again as did the fear: "Agh! Am I going to burst out in tongues!?".

You're right, nearly everyone sat down (and, while my friend also mentioned an encouraging 'Come, Holy Spirt' push from the crucifix, I'd like to think of it as not manipulative, but rather necessarily weighty). Though, it would be interesting to ask Fr. why this happens--perhaps it's not entirely his doing? Only God knows.

I noticed that a sister from an African order (and a handful of others) did not sit down, so that's when I decided that not buckling was my goal, along with remaining as conscious of Christ on the altar as possible. Maybe Fr. Crotty went easy on pregnant me--thank you, Father--in any case, as he approached and said a beautiful "Holy Spirit, Heal this Soul" I said "Lord, Jesus Christ" and remained standing. Yahoo! So, whether slain, standing, teary, or clear-eyed...only God knows what healing went on.

A curious experience to be sure. Ultimately though, Fr. Crotty made clear that the true miracle is and was Jesus up there on that altar--he opened up with those words and showed this in his actions as he would quietly offer the crucifix to Jesus as he passed from one side of the aisle to another.

So, to sum up: I only wish more of us swooned and teared up after communion or confession! May God bless and guide this charism in Fr. Crotty "All for the greater glory of God" and may we glorify Him with our lives.

Pentimento said...

My mother is Pentecostal too and she re-found her faith after my Catholic father's miraculous cure. She used to pray for me and my lapsed siblings to re-find ours, and I was frightened that finding faith would mean speaking in tongues, having to testify on the subway, and other crazy stuff. (It also scared me that I would have to be pro-life and seriously un-cool in other ways, too.) When it did happen, though, it happened without any of the things I feared the most, though it did and still does require painful sacrificies on a daily basis, mostly of my overweaning amour-propre.

Once at Adoration recently I had the sense of a weight on me in front of the Blessed Sacrament, but it was a good kind of weight, one that kept me from fluttering off into my usual folly and misunderstanding.