How Does the Act of ‘Speaking in Tongues’ Contribute to a Theology of Place?

My recent paper in the Journal of Dialogue Studies illustrates how the Pentecostal practice of ‘speaking in tongues’ resembles a dynamic of interplay, which develops a place to experience what some might call ‘the activity of the Spirit’. According to the claim of this paper, the dynamic of this practice should emulate the transitional stages of infant development, where the ideological concept of the caregiver’s presence facilitates space to practise free expression. According to the Pentecostal tradition speaking in tongues is a spiritual gift: ‘For he who speaks in tongues does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries’ (1 Corinthians 14:2). Defining such a characteristic within a Pentecostal framework is immanent for ecclesiastical development and spiritual growth. One might suggest that this practice resembles cathartic discharge, reverberating Saint Augustine’s notion that spirituality is emotionally led, rendering to the will of the heart. This sentiment promotes the concept of an unconscious agency responsible for accessing spiritual activity.

The Pentecostal tradition promotes equality and diversity and encourages biblical practises that place experience at the forefront of its theological exegesis by stimulating a state that induces a bodily-based hermeneutic filter. For example, speaking in tongues provides the individual with an expressive account of what he or she may perceive as an index to the Spirit being present and internally active. It is this ‘experience-based theology’ that characterises Pentecostalism according to the leading of the Spirit, which is adjacent to the concept of a Christ-centred theology. The ideological concept of the movement of the Spirit takes precedence and from general observations one might suggest that religious commitment seems to significantly demonstrate scriptural-based practises.

It may reasonably be claimed that the Pentecostal practice of speaking in tongues creates a place for the Spirit to remain active. This place provides an essential pre-requisite for the believer to circumvent anxiety and attune to the ideological concept of the caregiver through the practice of interplay. The assumption is that speaking in tongues resembles a form of play. This praxis elucidates a self-actualising process that places human creativity in participation with the Spirit’s will by interpenetration for the transformative purpose of rectification, which basically means a movement of righting rather than a fixed position of being right. This process is accomplished by priming the internal aesthetic register according to the desire for the Spirit, where the participant is able to internalise the symbolic value of scriptural-based action such as speaking in tongues, and therefore, vent an emotive cathartic exchange between the believer and the ideological concept of the caregiver. This assertion connotes a theory of function that conveys bodily-based experience as a means to express religious commitment.

The concept of the caregiver provides the basis of a ‘holding environment’ subsequent to that of the original presence of the infant’s maternal guardian. The term ‘holding-environment’ was first proposed by Donald Winnicott in ‘Parent-Infant Relationship’ (1960), denoting the process of attunement between the caregiver and the infant and how this inter-connective structure exemplifies a secure environment for the infant to develop healthily.

The ideal concept for the individual has attachment qualities and is located within transitional space according to the praxis of interplay. Church experience that resembles ‘good-enough mothering’ such as speaking in tongues posits psychical structures that provide an environment of transitional value, where interplay is the essential component of an inter-subjective encounter that is shared between the caregiver (or the ideological concept of the caregiver) and the individual. Creative expression is key for integration with the concept of the caregiver. Thus, the individual assumes reliability of the caregiver upon the concept of the Spirit, tailoring a belief system that encourages transitional play.

Hence forward, the belief system in a deity shields the individual from anxiety and therefore enables a sense of freedom, alluding to free expression as a form of necessity in developing a place to exhibit the activity of the Spirit. This ideological state conditions an identity that attunes the individual’s true sense of self with the concept of the caregiver’s presence. Accordingly, unconscious regulation of internal desire reverberates a need to express creativity in the form of interplay, and confidence for this independent directive suggests the ability to stimulate cathartic meaning from action. In other words, the practice of speaking in tongues provides an occasion to affectively regulate a feeling of closeness with the Spirit, which circumvents the anxiety of isolation.

Preston Evangelou

Preston Evangelou

PhD Candidate, King's College

Preston Evangelou is a doctoral candidate at King's College, whose research examines how the Winnicottian theory of transitional progression might be analogous to Johannine theology of spiritual development.

Reader Interactions

Have Your Say