Almost glossolalia

When I drove home at Christmas night from my sister’s home, I listened to radio. Soon I got bored (or annoyed) with the ADHD-Christmas-songs, and searched for a new station. I settled for a station that I had never listened before, since the program sounded very interesting. The station was called “Patmos”. I knew that it was a Christian station from the name. The group that made the program was called “Young Christians” (“Nuoret Uskovat” in Finnish). The program was not interesting because they would have something new and different that I wasn’t familiar with. On the contrary, the program was interesting exactly because it was a perfect example of the use of religious language, in this case Christian Evangelical language.

For an outsider a religious language may sound peculiar, something familiar but still very much odd. The group that one has not grown with or become customed with their habits with, may use same words and symbols, but with very different goals and functions in mind. For example when a question was asked from a girl in the proram “who is Jesus for you”, she answered something like: “He is my redeemer, my King, my stronghold”. With these words she referred primarily not to the literal meaning of some theologians, but the experiences which she has lived and is living with reciting these words. This may be hard to understand by an outsider, if s/he approaches the subject from an analytical hermeneutical angle. The words may give an impression of a person living in a fairytale-land, believing in an utopia of some sort, and incapable of any rational behavior. The reality is less dramatic and more complex.

This kind of Christian language reminds me very much of the mostly Pentecostal religious practice of glossolalia, speaking with words/language unknown to a speaker. In it a person utters words with a familiar sentence structure and order, but the words are uncomprehensible. Of course this differs noticeably from the Cristian language I was listening, since it used words and concepts that can be understood by learning the culture and symbol world. Nevertheless, they have a similar function for a believer. The main focus is not in what the words and imagined letters state, but what is done by reciting these words or utterances. The function is to live one’s religion with the experiences. In other words, a speaker is not so much describing her/his faith, but living it and in course of doing so describing the emotions and experiences, although known in total only by her/himself, the one experiencing. In this case a question “what do you mean by saying Jesus is my King” is irrelevant. It refers to a different aspect of a religion, to a theological and philosophical analyse of the ontology, of the world. For many believers, the words recited in religious language do not describe her/his faith. Foremost they describe the experience of religion, of world and life. They perform a ritual to themselves, to their god, and to people around them, usually expecting that those would also understand their practices. In many cases they don’t.


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