A blessing with eagle down
I used to frequently visit other churches, often making excursions with a friend or two in tow, to check out the latest charismatic speaker or healing service. When the Toronto Blessing hit, I visited the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, in a building the size of a hangar, and watched prayer team members get the jerks and punctuate their loud pleadings with "Ho!" The body contractions and the shouts seemed like involuntary reflexes. Many people without any exposure to this kind of thing would have been shocked and hightailed it outta there. But I had already seen some of this type of thing before, so I was unfazed.
Some people lay on the floor weeping, a few could not stand up because they were laughing so hard. Though I don't remember seeing this myself, there were reports some people roared like lions, what they called a prophetic representation of the Lion of Judah. A charismatic pastor whom I respect deeply told a story about how he had been disturbed to hear about this roaring and thought there was something weird about it. He was listening to a pastor — maybe from Korea — speak and loved the man's message. Then he found out this was one of the roarers! "Too late," my friend said, "I loved him already."
Before the staid readership at The Anglo-Catholic dismisses all this as nonsense, let me say that I have met many, many Christians, some in leadership positions, who were deeply healed and blessed doing carpet time during the height of the Toronto Blessing. But there were others who came from the experience so insufferably hyper-charismatic and eager for the next high that church splits resulted. When I went, I inwardly said to the Lord, "I am not too proud to roll around on the carpet, if this is of you, but if this is not of you, please protect me."
I allowed myself to be prayed over, but no fizz, no suds for me. Nothing happened. Perhaps I should be grateful. But maybe something happened in the unseen realm that did not need some kind of outward manifestation.
I say fizz and suds because I heard once that shampoo works perfectly well without suds, but most people would not think the product was working without them. I have come to know that deep things do happen on a spiritual level without lots of outer manifestations.
An Anglican minister (I say that because I don't think he would call himself a priest) told me how he had gone to the Airport Christian Fellowship and, because he was a bit uncomfortable with the wild manifestations, he sat to the side, praying and occasionally reading his Bible, yearning for God to speak to him somehow. Some of his friends went hog wild with the carpet time. What blew my Anglican friend away was an amazing synchronicity he was sure had a supernatural origin. Not only did he and all his friends come away with the same revelation from the Holy Spirit, though through different means as my friend had, when the Airport pastor got up to speak, he cited the exact verses that had come alive for my friend.
Another example. One Sunday, I went to my usual seeker-friendly Baptist Church where whoever was preaching read from a prepared text. Afterwards, I headed over to the new Vineyard church plant where the pastor was so into letting the Holy Spirit guide his words that he had nothing prepared and for agonizing minutes at a time, he sat in front of the microphone and said nothing! When he had a sentence or two, they were laced with ers and ums. It was excruciating for someone like me who appreciates eloquence if someone is going to be extemporaneous. Archbishop John Hepworth comes to mind as a virtuouso in that category. Eventually, this poor pastor, who expected the Holy Spirit to do everything for him, with no co-laboring on his part apparently, got warmed up and haltingly, did have something to say. The amazing thing was this: the pastor with the prepared text, the guy with nothing but a microphone ended up with nearly an identical message. Goosebumps? And these were two churches that pay no attention to any kind of lectionary or liturgical year — or each other for that matter.
What those two incidents showed me is that God can find ways to get through to us, using the different gifts and capacities of members of His Body. He wants the Gospel preached to all nations and all types of people and He will find a way to connect with us.
I attended a powerful event last weekend put on by a ministry to Canada's aboriginal peoples called Gathering the Nations. The pastor, Kenny Blacksmith, is a former Deputy Grand Chief of the Cree in Quebec, and part of a charismatic revival that has brought renewal and healing to the lives of many in communities in Canada's north that have been devastated by alcohol and other social problems. The event was called the National Forgiven Summit, that drew thousands of First Nations, Inuit and Metis people to came to Ottawa to extend forgiveness to the prime minister. Two years ago, Stephen Harper had issued an historic apology in the House of Commons for the Indian Residential Schools that were church-run, but made mandatory by the government and often forcibly removed children from their homes and endeavored to "take the Indian from the child." Harper asked for forgiveness of the school survivors and their descendants. Last weekend, those at the summit officially extended forgiveness. What a joyous, wonderful occasion it was.
I heard a few testimonies and I love testimonies; they were glorious. But often in charismatic circles it seems people say they needed to leave religion behind to find Jesus and be filled with the Holy Spirit. They needed to find that the Gospel transcended the so-called white man's culture and infused their own culture with the kind of light that the New Testament provides to the Old.
Dancers and drummers from across the country, dressed in their feather headdresses, bustles and other fabulous gear, danced and drummed but the contemporary music was distinctly Christian. While I'm sure there were some syncretists there, I had no discomfort at all as I often had in settings where my syncretism-meter goes buzz, buzz, buzz. At this event, it seemed that the stories, the ways, the dances were being baptized by Christianity, as if His Light shot through them, revealing the truths native peoples had intuited through their love of the Creator and the dreams they had about Jesus before the first missionaries and traders came to North America.
When I worry about syncretism, its when someone is trying to blur the Gospel, or turn Christianity into some kind of pantheism or panentheism. This was different and it was wonderful. Jesus and the Cross were front and center.
But it makes me have a little pang when I think that many of these folks who had to leave religion had to leave the Catholic or the Anglican Church in order to experience a relationship with Jesus Christ and feel the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But I also have to say that some of the areas where I see the Catholic Church in renewal are precisely those areas where the charismatic renewal has been re-incorporated into the Church — the Companions of the Cross, a wonderful new order of priests is one example — or Catholic Christian Outreach, a university ministry patterned after Campus Crusade for Christ.
Now I crave the quiet, the reverence, the kneeling, the beautiful canticles, the theological and liturgical precision at my little Anglican Catholic cathedral. But I love it when the Holy Spirit breaks into peoples' lives with fizz and suds and, if they have to lay on the carpet for a while, I don't have a problem with that. And I love seeing warriors dancing to Christian music. It feels like they are stomping on the devil.
Sometimes people may need to break away from what they are used to, what they are doing by rote, to rediscover their faith in a new way. And for people with persistent, deep-seated problems like addiction, such things as the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist might not seem to have enough fizz, when in fact they are the most efficacious of all. What I hope someday will happen is that people will come to see they don't need to leave the Catholic Church to come alive to Jesus.
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