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23 November 2010

A Puzzling Pentecostal Experience

I wont pretend I know why a lot of people do the things they do in their churches. Funny enough, it seems as though lot of people themselves are not sure why they do the things they do in their own churches either.

This thought came to me when I remembered, for no apparent reason, a certain quirky experience I had on one particular Pentecostal All Night Prayer meeting. How I ended up in there is a long story; involving heated debates, a round of church tours and a dog eared paperback Bible – I might tell you about it someday.

The fact remains that on this chilly night, at around at around 11 p.m, I found myself seated in a rented lecture theatre, trying my best to listen to what a pastor down on the podium was saying.
Then, I started feeling drowsy. Once or twice, I jerked my head up in the comical manner of one fighting a losing battle against sleep. I did try concentrating on the sermon, but I guess I tried too hard…because the next thing I knew, after the briefest of blackouts, was the pastor pointing in my direction and everyone in the hall looking at me. He was calling me up front.

Let me make it clear at this point that I had attended this event strictly as an observer. Earlier during the night, I had seen this pastor guy do a lot of alarming stuff on the stage; like getting into screaming matches with troubled souls to scare the hell…I mean demons out of them, going around praying and granting instant salvation to anyone who felt they needed saving, and slaying a lot of people down with…um…the Holy Spirit.

For one good hour, people all over had been swooning, gracefully falling into the waiting hands of the assistants. Others screamed and writhed on the ground as demons were yanked out of them, and still yet, others erupted into an ecstatic chattering of some exotic, but vocabulary limited new language that only I, and few other individuals, seemed to be ignorant of.

It was all very entertaining…but only from a distance. I had absolutely no intention of becoming part of it. So when the pastor called me up front, I stubbornly stayed seated.

Obviously, the kind and considerate Christian brothers around me couldn’t just stand by and watch a dear lost soul remain unsaved. I was given encouraging glances by the people in the crowd. I did try to ignore them, but then one of the pastor’s assistants actually came over to usher me down to the stage. Being an awfully bashful guy, I decided to end the awkward stand off and go along.

I braced myself for the unexpected as the pastor put a hand on my forehead and started praying over me, probably with the intention of driving out the demon of sleep that had so shamelessly taken me over at such a pious event. Or maybe he simply wanted to give me a healthy wallop of the Holy Spirit, strong enough to topple me over and have me end up talking funny. Given the choice, I’d take option B.

As my type of luck would have it, there was an option C I hadn’t accounted for.

See, the hand on my forehead started pushing me. To prevent myself from overbalancing and falling, I naturally started stepping backwards. The insistent pastor would have none of it so he kept pushing my head back. My sense of equilibrium would have none of it either, so it kept moving me backward to keep me from falling.

From the corner of my eye, I noticed two of the pastor’s assistants expectantly hovering near me (waiting for the point I would head for the ground, of course).

It must have been a comical sight to the honest on looker: the pastor, hand on my head, shouting and hurling insults ‘in the name of Jesus’ at whatever he wanted to come out of me….and me stubbornly retreating backwards as if I was desperate to have what was in me stay in me. I could imagine those in the crowd pitifully shaking their heads and saying to each other, ‘Strong demon, that.’

The circus came to a climax when the back of my feet came to the stairs. Therein I faced another dilemma: should I continue my backward retreat by climbing the stairs, or should I finally give up and let the pastor push me over into the waiting hands of the attendants?

I took option two, closed my eyes and was gingerly but swiftly lowered to the ground by expert hands. I felt the team around me move away then, having finished with me. A job very well done.

Ok: So there I was, sprawled on the ground, supposedly in a semi-conscious state, after having a particularly strong demon ousted out of me. The problem with this scenario was that I was fully conscious, feeling as fine as I was before the show, definitely not feeling as if something had been removed from or imparted to me…and left with two concurrent lines of thought running through my mind.
No, thats not me. Just a similar event.

The first line of thought, oddly enough, was that I was getting my jacket dirty. See, I had recently gave it a good scrubbing over the past weekend, now the white stripes were all going to get mucked up. I was worried that I might have to wash it a second time before I could put it on again. Why this thought seemed important to me at the time still puzzles me.

The second line of thought presented a more immediate problem to be dealt with. How the hell was I supposed to know how long I should stay down there? If I got up too early, everybody, including the pastor might think that the dose he gave me fell short of being sufficient, and might decide to add a little more. Now, I didn't want any more of whatever he had done to me. At the same time, I didn’t want to spend too much time down on the floor either….I mean…ever tried pretending you are unconscious on a cold hard dirty floor in your favorite clean jacket in a room full of curious peering faces? Darn uncomfortable.

Fortunately, I started hearing some commotion in another part of the hall. With the hope that everyone’s attention had surely shifted from me to there, I silently got up and returned to my seat.
Ten minutes later, after deciding the all night should be a half night for me, I was tucked in my warm soft clean blankets and dreamily wondering what that had been all about. Not just my experience, of course, but the whole screaming and falling and chaotic speaking in Guatemalean and the deliberate pushing me over to make me fall.
I did ask a lot of people about it afterwards, but I got conflicting answers, a general lack of conviction and glaring holes in the explanations given to me. This led me to my own conclusion which I still maintain today: that an awfully lot of people don’t have an inkling as to why they do the things they do in their own churches.

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