Love, Prayer, and Charismatic Spirituality
Picture a smallish young woman, head bowed, sitting on a wooden chair near the back of a small wooden church. As the semiformal service blended into an after service of prayer, she began to quiver. She shook, the chair began to rock on two legs, and she began to speak in tongues. It was her first time. She never forgot that experience of warmth and God’s presence. God’s love had been experienced.
|Soaking Prayer Photo|
The story of the young woman is from the 1930s but charismatic spirituality is going strong and together with Pentecostalism, represents one of the fastest growing movements in Christianity. Although scholars argue over fine points of defining religion and spirituality, a common finding is that religious people pray. But they pray in different ways.
This week I finished reading Catch the Fire: Soaking Prayer and Charismatic Renewal by Canadian Sociologist,Michael Wilkinson and Religious Studies scholar, Peter Althouse. They tell the story of a movement (Catch The Fire; CTF) that began in Toronto Canada in 1994 with roots in the Pentecostal resurgence that broke out in the early 1900s. The revival that began January 20, 1994 came to known as the Toronto Blessing. Of particular interest is the current practice of soaking prayer, which bears some resemblance to being slain in the Spirit- an old Pentecostalism.
Here’s what the authors say--
Soaking prayer is claimed by charismatics to facilitate and expand the reception of divine love in order to give it away in acts of forgiveness, reconciliation, compassion, and benevolence. Soaking is a metaphor that supports charismatic spirituality and practices like resting in the Spirit, prayer for spiritual gifts, healing, prophecy, and impartation, which we describe and explain in this book (p. 4).
People travel to conferences to learn the practice of soaking prayer. Take a pillow and a blanket and plan to spend time in the presence of God. You’ll see people lying on the floor, looking peaceful with hands outstretched. They’re waiting for God.
An interview explains soaking prayer.
The book summarizes the results of their research. They conducted field studies by observing at conferences and interviewing participants. They look at research findings that might explain the phenomenon. And they include the results of a survey. I’ll take a look at some of the data next.
I like data so I turned to the appendix to find out some of the numbers behind the movement. Here are some gleanings. (It starts on page 165.)
How many responded to the survey?
I don’t know how many started but the analysis is based on 258 people.
How old were they?
Mostly middle aged and seniors—60% were in the age groups 46 to 64.
Where did they live? Mostly in the USA—71.9%
What about relationships?
Most were married—73.9%
How ethnically diverse were they?
Not very—mostly of European stock—86.5%
How educated were they?
Pretty well: High School 40.9? College or University 40.9%.
Were they clergy or what?
Most were not 73.9%
How often do they pray?
59% said they pray throughout the day and about half had a set time for prayer (49%)
How do they pray?
They pray in many ways- I appreciated the creativity of the researchers to ask detailed questions. Most spoke to God in their own words (95.9%). Most prayer for the needs of others (90%) and themselves (77.1%). They used the Bible during prayer and listened to Christian music when praying.
Prayer on the go.
Most prayed whilst driving (89.6%). And a substantial number prayed whilst doing chores (72.1%) or doing errands/shopping (61.7%).
What did they experience?
The spiritual experiences were many and varied. They experienced the presence of God, reported visions, and experienced bodily and emotional healing. Speaking in tongues was common. They reported protection from evil and some said they were delivered from the demonic.
What were the outcomes?
Many reported increased capacity to handle adversity and increased compassion, hope and forgiveness.
They were busily engaged in helping others and reported feeling motivated to make the world a better place.
They reported giving time and money to help both religious and nonreligious charities.
THOUGHTS and NOTES
The authors of the book are Christians. They approach the subject in a scholarly manner and attempt to account for the prayer in terms of sociological theories. They are neither critical nor skeptical in their approach.
If you watch the videos on YouTube you might notice the advertising of soaking prayer kits and conferences. This could be taken as crass-TV product placement or it could be viewed as telling people more about an experience that many find meaningful. You will also find hours of soaking prayer music and instruction. so, in fairness, the information is freely available.
I’ve seen far too many charlatans—clergy fleecing the flock and worse. But now I see people finding different spiritual experiences meaningful to them. I’m still skeptical in an inquiring sense but rarely cynical.
It’s good to keep in mind that what people say in surveys does not represent what they actually do. People are not necessarily lying. There’s a tendency to over-report good deeds and socially desirable attitudes. Unless you conduct controlled experiments and ask questions to get at socially desirable attitudes, you can’t be overly confident in survey results.
The data on altruism are confusing because many Christians give money to their churches. Anyone with a bit of business experience knows salaries are the largest part of most organizational budgets. Some may consider this church-giving as charitable giving. But others do not. For them, charitable giving is that which helps those less fortunate or projects (e.g., cancer research) likely to help millions. How do you define altruism and generosity?
I learned about the woman at the beginning of the post from my mother—it was her experience.
Wilkinson, M. & Althouse, P. (2014). Catch the fire: Soaking prayer and charismatic renewal. DeKalb, Illinois: Northern Illinois University Press.
Mittelstadt, M. & G. W. Sutton (eds.) (2010) Forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration: Multidisciplinary studies from a Pentecostal perspective. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications. http://wipfandstock.com/pickwick_publications
Sutton, G. W. (2010). The Psychology of Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Restoration: Integrating Traditional and Pentecostal Theological Perspectives with Psychology. In M. Mittelstadt & G. W. Sutton (eds). Forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration: Multidisciplinary studies from a Pentecostal perspective. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications. http://wipfandstock.com/pickwick_publications
Sutton, G. W., Jordan, K., & Worthington, E.L., Jr. (2014). Spirituality, hope, compassion, and forgiveness: Contributions of Pentecostal spirituality to godly love. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 33, 212-226.