It was a Wednesday night and I was on the ground, rolling and gasping for air, laughter coming in wave after wave, cramping all my muscles and pushing tears out of the corners of my eyes. I was lost to the world, convulsing in heavy, wheezing laughs. But I hadn’t heard a good joke nor was I tickled; I was “laughing in the Spirit” and this hysteric guffaw continued for over a half hour straight without breaks.
I was only 13 years old and on a mission trip in rural Appalachia with my (very) non-Charismatic church youth group. I was the only student who had a lot of previous experience with the “gifts of the Holy Spirit”, and the last thing I expected was that these gifts would occur during a Presbyterian prayer meeting. Most of the other attendees were just as shocked as I was. In fact, one girl thought my giggle fit was aimed in a mocking way at other children experiencing emotional times of worship. I couldn’t talk plainly enough to answer her, so she grabbed a glass full of milk and poured it on my head. It didn’t help.
I’m not sure if this group fit was suggested, or if one emotional, weeping child led to someone falling over, which lead to speaking in tongues, dancing, and my personal experience with holy laughter. I may have helped the situation along by telling people that it was God’s Spirit leading us and that speaking in tongues and being slain in the Spirit was great.
Was it a chain reaction? Wanting to fit in? Mass hysteria? Supernatural? How can we know?
One thing’s for sure–the grownup leaders at this prayer meeting lost control over every aspect, and it went much too far. By the next day stories of demon visitations, prophesying, and salvation were filtering all around the camp.
Want to see this “Spirit” in action?
The following clip was edited to show the humor in a pentecostal worship service, but it reminded me so much of the contagious nature of those social situations. Just watch as people fall down as if drunk after hearing the pastor speak about the apostles appearing drunk in Acts 2.
It may be my intuition, but I can look at the faces of many of those audience members and see them thinking about what they’re doing: fake laughter, self-propelled shakes, flailing, and so forth. This is the kind of behavior that makes me shudder and groan nowadays. See for yourself:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWfLdYIpARQ
(hat tip to @achura)