Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Alpha Course Overnight Getaway: The Main Event

Some folks are not as into Jesus as they would like to be.
This is a special, mini-series within my larger series on the Alpha course. I am a Jewish-raised dude and now Gnu Atheist who has taken the Alpha Course along with my Christian wife. Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Part II, The Holy Spirit Cometh!
We had a hearty supper of chicken and veggies. Salad, too. The day had already been long and tiring, but we all knew that the upcoming session was the most important.

At 7:15 pm, we met as a big group and began an extended worship period with music. I remember thinking that many songs (some new, some we had heard many times before) were erotic. Here, for example, is a lyric from “The Potter’s Hand”:
Take me, mold me, use me, fill me.
I give my life to the Potter's hand.
Call me, guide me, lead me, walk beside me.
I give my life to the Potter's hand.
Eroticism here encompasses desire, physical intimacy, emotional surrender. The penitent says to God/Jesus: I want to be immersed in you, and you in me. I want to be the instrument of your desire and will.

Hot stuff. Here’s more of the same from “Spirit of the Living God”:
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me,
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Next came the third talk, on how to call upon the Holy Spirit and be filled with it. The talk started with Gumbel’s argument that a Christian filled with the Holy Spirit was at a different, better level than someone who simply identified as a Christian or professed belief. Gumbel’s mission is have people be active engagers with God/Jesus. He wants them to be worked up and excited in their belief.

It becomes clear that everyone in the room is going to be invited to call upon the Holy Spirit. A lot of the talk is like a ghost story (no pun intended). Gumbel is saying that you people are going to be filled with the Holy Spirit: don’t be afraid, don’t be worried, don’t be anything except ready to receive the Spirit.

One effect of his talk is to swell all of us, including me, with anticipation and uncertainty. Something great and powerful is going to happen to each one of us. None of us can predict how we or others will experience the Holy Spirit, but experience it we will.

We have come to the center of the course. This moment is what the Alpha course has been driving to from the beginning. This is the time and the place where all the doubting and believing Christians come together to pray and to convince themselves of Christianity’s truth. The lights dim. Everyone bows their heads and puts their hands in an open position.

The church leader says we’re all here tonight for a reason. She invites people to come up and have hands laid upon them, but no one went up. The music was playing in the background, and group leaders began moving to individuals, men to men and women to women. The leaders asked each person if he or she wanted to be prayed for. If the person said “yes” then the pair would move away and the leader would put hand to the person’s shoulder and begin praying.

When a leader from my group approached me, he appeared sheepish. I took this to mean he knew I would politely decline prayer, and I did. I cannot say I know exactly what was said when the prayers got going. I stood by my seat while the prayer pairs moved outside the chairs to have some room. Nevertheless, I gathered that the leaders were calling out to the Holy Spirit. Then, they prayed for anything the person wanted prayer to do. These individual prayers seemed to go on for about five or more minutes per person. When people were done, particularly the women, the group leader told the person “God bless you, [person],” and then the two would hug it out.

Honestly, with no disrespect intended, the intimacy of the pairs was...well...intimate. The way people looked at each other you might have thought one or both achieved orgasm.

In a sense, they did. This whole scene was very energized and dramatic. I’m not saying this was all vulgarly sexual or iniquitous. I am observing that there is an erotic undercurrent to the relationship with God/Spirit being sought through the prayers and songs. That much seems undeniable.

Now, I saw no one speaking in tongues, but plenty of tears. Two men in my group became declared Christians. After they got their individual prayers, they each went to separate smaller prayer groups of about four people. The whole thing began to break up at about 9:00 pm.

I was exhausted and quite shaken by what I had seen.

Next Time: The Aftermath

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