a careful charismatic

by Kelley

CarefulCharismatic

My first encounter with the Spirit, as far as I know, happened at St. Nicholas Church. Spiritual songs surrounded me; people spoke in tongues quietly; and one night I joined the spirited cacophony, too.

We gathered across the parking lot in the fellowship hall, trading candles for florescent overhead lighting and a pew-free space to circle up chairs. The Holy Spirit lit our hearts. We kept the fire to ourselves. When we crossed back to the altar we used the same words as everyone else: creeds, prayers, responsive readings. We processed forward together, drank from the same cup, shared the peace.

I started as a Catholic charismatic.

//

After college, finally on my own, I found a church that clicked. They spoke often about the movement of the Holy Spirit as if they understood all the divine gestures. My community taught me to see the Spirit moving as we prayed for people–“notice the fluttering eye lids, the hot hands, the shaking.” My pastors easily recognized when the Holy Spirit was present in the room; the worship leader knew the Spirit’s preferred playlist. Itinerate preachers came with words of knowledge, holy laughter, and the ability to fell a man the size of a tree with the tap of a finger. I learned to see and speak of the Spirit in these ways.

I spoke about hearing God. I received words of knowledge. I spoke in tongues. My hands gently shook as I prayed – like a holy tremor signaling I was on track. In the context of prayer I’d venture, “I think God is saying…” or “I heard Jesus tell me…” or “…the Spirit just showed me something.” I was utterly earnest. I wanted to be on the information super-highway, where God was always talking and I was always listening and delivering words. (To be fair, sometimes we lightened up a bit and called them “impressions.”) But those were heady days, when we trafficked in the words of the Spirit.

I was, at best, a clumsy charismatic.

//

This community blessed me as I entered seminary. Alongside exegetical studies and church history I read books by all the current charismatic thinkers. I took classes with well-known practitioners. I watched a man, experienced in exorcism, call a demon out of a student in class and hold a conversation with… it. “What a street fighter,” I mused, watching in amazement at his seasoned skill and courage. In another classroom I learned to hear the Spirit in silence, in fasting, and in the pages of my own journal. My education should have included whiplash insurance, come to think about it.

I grew in confidence that the charismatic way possessed a gravitas other streams missed. I wouldn’t ever say we were superior, but I thanked God I got to worship on the inside track where the Holy Spirit held counsel with the charismatic crowd.

I spoke about the mechanisms and movements of the Holy Spirit with ease now. I spoke about some worship leaders taking us into the throne room of God while others, the praise-singing kind, were antiquated and dull. (Somehow I always retained a reverence for the hymns, the way they resonated deep in me, and I never shunned them.) I felt familiar enough to name where the Holy Spirit was (and was not).

A local pastor began a deliverance ministry in his office after hours and I joined his team. As we met with people, we interceded, named demonic presences and we cast them out. I felt like I was in a street gang of sorts as we left the building on those late nights, talking about heavenly victories as we walked across the parking lot to our lonesome cars.

I was on the ministry team. I led the team of intercessors for the prayer team. I taught about the spiritual gifts and spoke in tongues. Heck, I was an exorcist in training.

I’d become a confident charismatic.

//

Somewhere in my thirties I stopped. Not all at once and not for any particular reason. I still attended a church chock full with charismatic brothers and sisters. Embracing spontaneity, eschewing structure and longing for the Spirit unleashed was our desire. But for all our sincerity it felt a bit sloppy.

My reading turned to the prophets of old – Isaiah, Amos, Micah. Their signs and wonders felt like an afterthought compared to their incessant concern for the vulnerable within the community. These men spoke of neighborhood restoration, rivers of justice and, my favorite, melting swords and fashioning plowshares. They called out economic exploitation, violence and tribalism that divided. The Spirit energized them to emancipate people from real debt, real slavery, real peril.

These prophetic voices changed what I wanted. I no longer wanted to be on the super-highway of information or a street fighter. I wanted to see people set free from the underside of empires and economies so they could live a viable and vibrant life.

And, like any prophet worth her salt, they scrubbed down my own pretense. In a season that was quite quiet and unremarkable the Spirit recalibrated me. Nothing was lost, but everything was transformed.

My language shifted. Gone were my careless words, my over-familiarity with the divine and casual talk of how the Spirit was at work here or there. I held my tongue more. I watched. I listened. My hunger for justice deepened. I saw the Spirit at work in places I’d missed before, and it broke me and freed me at the same time.

I still speak in tongues. My hand still trembles slightly when I pray. I’ve witnessed God heal a little girl of full blown AIDS and take a community of families into food security for the first time in their lives. I believe the Spirit is alive and on the move in our world more than ever.

But I don’t assume as much as I used to, I don’t say as much either.

Now I am a careful charismatic.

*Photo by Tiago Cassol Schvarstzhaupt, Creative Commons via Flickr.

21 Responses to “a careful charismatic”

  1. Krista N. Dalton (@KristaNDalton) February 18, 2014 at 6:56 am #

    “My language shifted. Gone were my careless words, my over-familiarity with the divine and casual talk of how the Spirit was at work here or there. I held my tongue more. I watched. I listened. My hunger for justice deepened. I saw the Spirit at work in places I’d missed before, and it broke me and freed me at the same time.”

    Kelley that will preach!

  2. Brenna Zesiger D'Ambrosio February 18, 2014 at 7:59 am #

    Kelley, this is just absolutely beautiful. It mirrors, to some degree, so much of my own shift. Grateful for your words and your voice.

  3. Carly Gelsinger February 18, 2014 at 9:35 am #

    This is the arch of so many of our stories in and around the charismatic church. I am not where you are – somewhere between confident and careful I got confused. The confusion turned to anger, anger to indifference. I am a “cold charismatic.”

  4. Carly Gelsinger February 18, 2014 at 9:47 am #

    This is beautifully written and echoes some of my own experience in the charismatic church. Except for between confident and careful, I got confused…then calloused… now indifferent. You could say I’m a “cold charismatic.” I want the peace you have found. Thank you.

    • Carly Gelsinger February 18, 2014 at 9:49 am #

      Woops, my comment hadn’t shown up so I wrote another one. Now there is two! Feel free to delete one of them. Sorry!

    • Kelley Nikondeha February 18, 2014 at 11:09 am #

      Carly, give it time. My move from confident to careful spanned about ten years. It was a slow, gentle process for the most part. But there were bouts of confusion, when I felt things shifting and lacked exact language for it. Sometimes others noticed slight changes and wanted to know what was happening, and I couldn’t really tell them to their satisfaction. But I just trusted the Spirit was still at work in me, but in a new way that still seemed to bear fruit. So don’t try to force it, just stay honest about where you sense (or don’t) the Spirit at work and take the long-term approach.

  5. Jill Harms February 18, 2014 at 2:16 pm #

    “My language shifted. Gone were my careless words, my over-familiarity with the divine and casual talk of how the Spirit was at work here or there. I held my tongue more. I watched. I listened. My hunger for justice deepened. I saw the Spirit at work in places I’d missed before, and it broke me and freed me at the same time.”

    I’m in the broke portion of this redemptive process, and I appreciated every word here. Thank you, Kelly.

  6. Diana February 18, 2014 at 5:44 pm #

    Well said, Kelley. I had no idea you started with the charismatic Catholics. That’s a group I found late in my life, and they welcomed me, even though I do not have the ecstatic gifts (unless you count tears, which I do, actually). They’re a rich group in so many ways, but I can see how you made each of the transitions that you did. Any group can become an ‘in’ group and that is pretty much antithetical to everything the Holy Spirit is about, I think. Thanks for sharing this part of your journey in this space.

    • Taija February 18, 2014 at 7:07 pm #

      Diana, I love how you put that – “any group can become an ‘in’ group and that is pretty much antithetical to everything the Holy Spirit is about.” That’s so true, and so humbling – something we all must be diligent in remembering!

  7. Alyssa Santos February 18, 2014 at 7:19 pm #

    I so appreciate this. I am not a charismatic, but I am part of a technically charismatic church. I grew up staid and steadfast on the fundamental right. As God got personal and grew me, he’s helped me make peace with that end of Christianity too. I think it’s a deepening, a grace awareness that you’re speaking of, and you were a believer who studied the word of God. His word teaches us, makes him holier and more accessible at the same time. Thanks for this.

  8. Elena Pellizzaris February 18, 2014 at 7:28 pm #

    “My language shifted. Gone were my careless words, my over-familiarity with the divine and casual talk of how the Spirit was at work here or there. I held my tongue more. I watched. I listened. My hunger for justice deepened.”

    I know I’m not the first one to have quoted these especially powerful lines; truly, it’s like reading my own story in someone else’s words. A long, long time ago, when I first came to the faith (in a charismatic church, of course), life–and even life with the Spirit was very much black and white. I had my boxes and carefully constructed ideologies of what God and church and the Holy Spirit looked like. And somewhere along the line, the walls came down. I became acquainted with the grey areas and the tension that comes with mystery, with admitting I didn’t have all the answers. And I realized that the things I’d been so sure about–I knew nothing of them all along.
    These days, I often don’t know where I fit. I’ve been labeled: “charismatic”, “evangelical”, “missionary”, but those words don’t mean what they used to anymore. Thank you for helping me to understand that it’s okay, that there’s still a place for me at the table.

    • Kelley Nikondeha February 18, 2014 at 9:19 pm #

      Come sit next to me at the table, Elena. I’m learning grey is good and luminous, and there’s a freedom when you move away from the black and white binaries. I hope my softened language indicates a softer heart, too. I don’t own labels well, either. I think we’ll have much to share over this (someday) meal!

  9. Ellen February 18, 2014 at 9:45 pm #

    Refreshing, cool water to my soul…thank you, thank you! I live in a small, isolated community and feel like a misfit with my doubts and questioning. What an encouragement to read of your experience that so closely mirrors mine and realize that I am not alone! It is okay to acknowledge mystery, to say, “I don’t know,” to let God be wild.

  10. Antoinette February 18, 2014 at 10:35 pm #

    ” In a season that was quite quiet and unremarkable the Spirit recalibrated me. Nothing was lost, but everything was transformed.”

    I am with you in this season of being a careful charasmatic.

    Love this post. Thank you for taking time to write it

  11. Hama. M. Daniel February 19, 2014 at 4:58 am #

    From
    “…..easily recognized when the Holy Spirit was present in the room; the worship leader knew the Spirit’s preferred playlist. Itinerate preachers came with words of knowledge, holy laughter, and the ability to fell a man the size of a tree with the tap of a finger…”

    to
    “…These men spoke of neighborhood restoration, rivers of justice and, my favorite, melting swords and fashioning plowshares. They called out economic exploitation, violence and tribalism that divided. The Spirit energized them to emancipate people from real debt, real slavery, real peril.”

    I TOTALLY IDENTIFY!!!!

    And it is very amazing to me that I was thinking about this very theme just last night and so I am by the “prophetic-timeliness” of reading this today…

    1 Cor 13 comes to mind, I better understand Paul’s communication to people whose attention to various “supernatural manifestations” was so immense that it threatened their focus on love. And it is from that context that he said in vs 11 “when I was a child I spoke as a child… but when I became a man…”

    and also in 1Co 14:12 “Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.”

    Thank you so much for the clarity you have given me on this through your writing.

  12. BEN K February 19, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

    Is this not the journey of many folks in the charismatic circles, or better still is it not the journey we take in most endavours. Take our love life for instance; when we first meet, we are skeptical about most things but with time we get so passionate about the love of our life. However with time the passion ebbs down and we take a mature approach to it, sometimes with periods of severe conflict.
    Consider when we first come to Jesus, like someone said everything is black and white; right or left. We cannot afford to miss fellowship and all the things that go with it but with time this passion ebbs into a mature christian able to guide others in the way of christianity.

    Thanks for this master piece of an article

  13. Sean Whiting February 19, 2014 at 10:48 pm #

    Such great articulation of your journey, Kelley. I can truly relate. The end of all “streams” can lead to the heart of God for the oppressed, just like the prophets. Clumsy, confident, cautious. Next stop? A wise charismatic, and you’re not far off!

  14. Bev Murrill February 20, 2014 at 1:32 am #

    Kelley, once again you bless me so much. I have traversed many of these same paths and have arrived in a very similar place to you… and what a relief not to have to be so… on the cutting edge of God’s purposes. To know that He wants me to love justice, do mercy and walk humbly in His sight is so much more wonderful.

    Thanks again for your writing gift to the Body of Christ.

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