For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands them; they utter mysteries by the Spirit. But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort.
I Corinthians 14:2-3 (NIV)
The “gift of tongues” is often a controversial topic in church circles. There are some churches that welcome the “gift” while others firmly teach that the “gift” no longer has a place in the modern corporate worship experience. I’ve never had the urge to blurt something in a language I’ve never learned, but have been around people who are quite thrilled to utter mumbo jumbo. I’m okay calling it mumbo jumbo, because the people I’ve heard have said that to speak in tongues, you just make up noises to praise God. A few of these people have actually told me that people are only truly saved if they speak in tongues. Forgive me for sounding skeptical, but there is so much screwed up theology that is suggested in these assertions that I refuse to give them any credit. Isn’t my salvation between me and God anyways? I’m pretty sure Jesus never said, “Believe in me and you will know a language that no other human can understand. Speak that language, and you will be saved.” The great irony here is that Jesus taught to believe in him and speak the language of love. People may not understand why they are being loved, or how to receive that love, but the language itself is clear.
I don’t want to rant to the point of losing my intent on writing about tongues in the first place. The thought struck me several weeks ago that there is a correlation between the intent of tongues and literature, especially poetry.
All poetics and schools aside, poetry is one of the core expressions of humanity. It was the first literature, the first drama. How many young writers turn to poetry when they are simply trying to find meaning in their experiences? I wonder if poetry is a (the?) lingual connection between man’s spirit and God’s.
If you read the full chapter of I Corinthians 14, you’ll notice that the use of tongues in corporate worship is only permissible when the words are interpreted. Otherwise, the words don’t mean anything for the greater congregation. Paul asserts that worshipers prophecy, or tell about their experiences and what God is doing in their lives, rather then speak in tongues and be selfish about the experience.
Could literature, or poetry for that matter, be the new tongues?
Looking at this chapter (I Corinthians 14) through a poetic lens, one could say that language is between man and God, but experience holds meaning between humans. Have you ever written a poem that held great power to you, only to have a reader say, “Huh?” With poetry, we have the intersection of “tongues” and “prophecy”, or of personal language and experience.
How often do we hold on to those inaccessible poems (outside of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland), those poems/stories that hold no meaning for the reader? I certainly don’t.
And how often do we have an opinion about a poem, and then, through the course of conversation (interpretation), our views are either solidified or broadened? I don’t think literature demands critics, but the understanding and overall joy can be maximized with insight outside my own.
my mind’s eye
and ear and tongue
sifts like fine dirt
through a sluice box