Written by Keith Strohm
I am returned from a long and unplanned hiatus. However, I have been checking ID faithfully and following the ongoing conversations here. In keeping with our pre-Pentecost theme, I wanted to share a little bit about how the Charismatic Renewal challenged my faith and helped me to move deeper in my relationship with the Lord.
I should actually preface this post by saying that I am not a member of the CCR, nor have I ever been. I hang around the outskirts of the Renewal, attending a prayer group on an irregular basis.
Growing up, I had a very cultural and intellectual formation in my faith. What catechesis I did receive pre-High School consisted of the message "God is Love" (a rather central and important one) and a number of exercises whereby I cut out doves and pictures from magazines to make mobiles. While in High School, the Marianists provided a rather rigorous 4-year formation that started with a year spent on the Old Testment, a year spent on the New Testament, a year studying Christian Philosophy, and a year studying Christian Existence (still more examination of philosophy, particularly from a Christian Humanism perspective).
By the time I made it through College and in to Graduate School, I had developed a love of meditation, the rhythms of monastic life, and contemplative prayer. Then, I met the folks at my Graduate School's Neman Center. They were, by and large, undergraduates. In addition to Mass on Sunday, they got together on Sunday evenings for prayer, praise, and worship. I went a few times and definitely enjoyed it. However, there were certain times that I would feel a little uncomfortable--mostly when they would ask if someone needed prayer and then "pray over" that individual. Sometimes, a few of them uttered things that sounded suspiscously like tongues.
Little did I know, but this group was sponsored by a local Catholic Charismatic Group. I found that out when my fellow Newman-ites invited me to attend Bible study at the house of one of the older members of the Charismatic Prayer Group. I went, and came face to face with what I called at that time full-blown "Charismania." There was praying out loud, calling on the name of Jesus, praying in tongues, talk of deliverance, and a very "literal" approach to the Bible.
I fled as fast as I could! I should say that at this time, courtesy of my English MA program, I was receiving a rather harsh indoctrination into post-modern literary theory, deconstuction, and feminist cultural criticism. Unfortunately, I took to that stuff like a duck to water. Therefore, the whole Charismatic approach to my faith seemed, in addition to being superstitious, backwards, and just plain horse hockey, also dangerously partriarchal and oppressive. The members of the prayer group spoke of Truth, of Good and Evil, of a personal and even physical experience of God through the Holy Spirit.
I resisted with all my heart, mind, and strength--protesting to my friends that I wanted no part in their damned charismania.
Thankfully, the Holy Spirit had some other ideas.
One evening, while praying with the members of the Newman Center prayer group, I spoke a prayer out loud for those who were caught in the cycle of addiction (referring to some relatives). At that moment, I experienced what could only be explained as the sensation of two hands touching my head and praying over me (none of my friends were around me). I felt wave after wave of peace crest over me, and all of a sudden it was as if my head were expanding to touch the ceiling. Somehing was happening in my heart, as well--as if a soft voice were whispering something there, and that something was just out of hearing range.
I know that I've shared this story before here on ID, but I can not tell you how foriegn this experience of prayer was to me. When we ended with the Our Father, I opened my mouth and promptly snapped it shut, for I knew that if I prayed that prayer out loud, watever came out of my mouth would not be in the English language.
What followed in those weeks and months was an unending pursuit of my heart, mind, and soul by the Holy Spirit. I resisted and ran, and the Holy Spirit pursued and found. I have often described it as that period of time when God consistently hit me upside the head with spiritual 2 x 4's. When I think back on the amazing ways that God was manifesting His Love and Desire for me I am completely humbled and ashamed. I did everything I could to reject Him.
This period of uneasy courtship ended with a profound emotional healing--an amazing gift that God offered me--as well a powerful, life-changing experience of an anointing of the Holy Spirit (I don't like the term "baptism" in the Holy Spirit because I find it theologically confusing).
The thing is, none of that would have happened to me without the gentle support, encouragement, and challenge of my fellow Catholics who answered my questions, listened openly as I railed against this kind of spirituality, and who continud to love me day in and day out as I wrestled with the ways in which God was calling me to a deeper relationship with Him.
Yes, there were some kooky folks attached to that adult Charismatic Prayer Group, and yes there are sometimes rather unique views by individuals in the Renewal regarding the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but their lives of intentional discipleship and their willingess to be apostles of Christ, sharing the ways in which the Holy Spirit worked in their lives, helped to prepare me for the way in which the Holy Spirit wanted to be in relationship to me.
I began to realize that if I was experiencing the very same things that Christians in the Bible experienced, then maybe my default "Christianity without the supernatural" approach to things was actually a way to hide myself from the fullness of that love relationship He was calling me to.
So, the Charismatic Renewal and their charismania changed my life.
Of course, now I realize tha it wasn't just them--the Holy Spirit changed and transformed me. The Advocate, the Paraclete, the Lover who touches the deepest part of who I am--He has wrapped me in His Love. I will never be the same.
And I never want to be!