Since I wrote about the baptism in the Spirit a week or so ago, I have been musing about the gift of tongues which often accompanies the Spirit baptism.  As I see it, scripture talks about three uses of tongues.

The first type is that which occurred at Pentecost when all those in the upper room began to speak in tongues “as the Spirit gave them utterance.”  Those who heard them said, “how is that we hear, each in his own language?”    Either the disciples actually spoke in the various languages of those present, or God opened the ears of the listeners so each could hear in his own language.  I’ve heard of missionaries who have gone to foreign lands and were enabled to speak in the language of the new country without studying it, but I have had no personal experience of this gift.  So, on to the next.

Second, in 1 Cor. 12 we read: “There are varieties of gifts… another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.”  I’ve seen this gift displayed a few times – it could actually be considered the gift of prophecy as it is a word from God to the people.  One person speaks in tongues and a second person is given an understanding of what is being said, thereby “interpreting.”

Third is the more usual gift of tongues, often received with the baptism in the Spirit.  In the previous two examples, the gift of tongues is used to speak to the people.  In this third one, it is used to speak to God – to praise, plea, or whatever.  In Acts 10 we see that the people in Caesarea had not even been baptized but “the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God.”  And Peter said, “can anyone forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”  The gift of tongues was taken in this case as evidence of receiving the Holy Spirit and was being used to praise God.  In 1 Cor. 14:2 we read: “For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God, for no one understands him.”  I’d like to write a little of my experience with this particular kind of tongue-speaking.

Prayer meetings were a new phenomenon in the Catholic church when I attended my first one in the early 1970s.  I had heard unusual things about such meetings and curiosity led me to look into them.  The meetings were more “loose” than the ordinary Catholic service but I enjoyed them and have been going ever since.  Not long after that I learned that another Catholic church in the area was having a series of teachings on the baptism in the Spirit given by some Sisters from New York.  Again, I went, just out of curiosity.  I thought I was already committed to following Jesus and there was not much more needed.  We were told that at the end of the series we could be prayed with to receive the Spirit as the people did in the early church.  I considered not going forward for prayer as I was still agoraphobic at that time and not inclined to sit in the front of the church – but I went along with the program.  We sat in alternate pews, said a prayer of repentance, and then invited the Holy Spirit into our lives while others laid hands on our shoulders and prayed along with us.

Nothing seemed to happen.  After the meeting I browsed through the books on sale and selected The Cross and the Switchblade, not for myself  but thinking it was something my children might be willing to read.  As I reached to open the car door to go home I noticed that my lower jaw was shivering, and it was a little chilly.  At the next prayer meeting, Fr. Joe asked those who hadn’t received the gift of tongues to go into another room with him and we would pray for it.  Father prayed in tongues and soon my lower jaw was shaking again and I kind of warbled.  No words, but Father declared it was tongues and that was that.

Still dubious, a few days later, in my bedroom, the cat was on my bed and she purred as I petted her.  Interesting.  She purred when she received a loving touch.  She also purred when she was grooming and feeding her kittens.  I wondered if maybe the gift of tongues was similar?  Something inside vibrates when touched by the Spirit of Love?  Again my jaw shivered and I warbled and this time I knew I was using this gift to praise God.

Since that time my tongue has become more involved, sometimes forward in my mouth as in a la-la sound, sometimes near the throat with a more gutteral sound.  Also since that time I notice that when I sing my voice has a tremolo that it didn’t have previously.

I have chosen this video to show what the gift can sound like.  I do not know Lonnie Mackley but he seemed like a straightforward kind of guy with an impressive story.

In 2006 a study with brain scans of people speaking in tongues showed  no changes in the language areas, indicating that tongues did not involve the speech center, but, rather, increased activity in the emotional centers of the brain.  I can agree with those who have done these studies and who say that the part of the brain involved in speech is not involved.   I don’t have a clue as to what I’m going to say next – it just tumbles out.

When the Nativity Story appeared in theaters in 2006 I was struck by the sounds made by the women attending the birth of Elizabeth’s baby.  As soon as the child was born they all made a rather shrill warbling sound known as ululation.  It sounded to me like the gift of tongues.   When better to warble in praise than at the birth of a baby!  Surely that is a thing of wonder!  One writer describes  the Middle East custom of zaghareet as a joyous warbling sound “that welcomes a guest or announces a grand family event.”

Another thing that reminds me of tongues is yodeling.  Where better to praise the good Lord than on a mountain top, with the sky overhead and the valleys below?  Was the original yodel – with its repeated joyous L sounds – prompted by the Holy Spirit?

Oftentimes when someone is singing and words fail, the singer continues la-la-la-ing with whatever sounds happen to come out.   When singing springs from a joyous heart, how better to praise God?

These questions made me wonder whether praying in tongues is something that comes naturally to joyful humans.  Whether we go al-le-lu or tra-la-la or tura-lura-lura  what does it matter?  We’re talking to God, it’s coming from the heart and he knows what we mean.   What I am sure about is that when my mind turns to God, whether in thought or in song, this “tongues thing” happens.  And I like the connection to God that I feel then.

Finally, I think the best-ever book about tongues – easy to read, and ringing true – is Pat’s Boone’s A New Song published in 1970.  It is available on Amazon for a penny plus postage.  Pat writes, “Above everything else, I’ve tried to be honest.”  In describing his spiritual journey, Pat tells how he, his wife, and his four daughters individually and on separate occasions received the gift of tongues.  It is a joy to read.

If you need more convincing,  The Cross and the Switchblade is highly recommended.  It was, for me, a powerful glimpse into the way the Spirit can work in a yielded soul.


For the unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.  — 1 Cor. 2:14