|The Sanctifying Tongue
"Medi alukan— ala— du aru—
shamma shamma. Solama sulama sumala tamaku abada da da kumi sala sala
mili amatala shamma shamma balu—
"Ama tala manga diekam oh sila
sila aboda take shamma shamma—"
A strange sound engulfed me as I
quietly entered the 30-odd-pew church nestled peacefully somewhere in a
staid old residential section of Memphis, Tennessee. In search for
information on the manifestation of the gift of tongues, which had now
begun to seep through the cracks in the thus far impenetrable doctrinal
walls protecting the country’s main-line religions, I had been
directed to this solemn looking building.
The fortress-like image of the church
had for years safeguarded its traditional heritage. Yet, somehow this
was now changing.
The December wind howled threateningly
about the church’s lone spire, and wet whirly fingers of rain tugged
at me as I made my way to the door of the church. Holding the dripping
brim of my rain hat with one hand and attempting with the other to keep
my trenchcoat closed, I climbed the crumbling concrete steps and leaned
my wet weight against the aging door.
Within seconds the squeaks of the rusty
hinges mingled with a strange, melodious sound, a hint of which had
reached out for me while I had slushed past the church’s dimly lit
windows moments before.
"Shamma shamma oh amatala taka
aboda shamma shamma— I lake tiki sala aboda— shamma takala takala
A language? It was most certainly a
sound I had never before encountered. One moment pleading, the next
instant jubilant and triumphant, it was a solitary voice with a
shimmering background of subdued cries of ecstasy. It implored, cried
with a pulsating chain of sounds that became insistent and captivating
in the dark as I continued to shuffle across the foot-worn marble slabs
that led to the sanctuary doors.
Hat under my arm, coat still dripping,
I squeezed through the narrow crack in the door and joined the
congregation, taking an outside seat on one of the back pews.
The entire congregation—young and old
alike—listened with raptured attention to the flood of mysterious
sounds that poured forth from the mouth of a young man standing on one
of the front pews. He had turned around when I entered, and across the
uneven sea of heads I watched him from my vantage point of self-imposed
He was young—no doubt about that—perhaps
21 or 22 years of age. His supernatural performance, however, more than
replaced his obvious immaturity. There he stood, speaking, talking,
uttering sounds definitely not from this part of the world. His wet hair
framed a pockmarked face lost in rapture. Slender hands raised skyward
as if reaching for God, he talked on and on, praying in sounds that
seemed to have no resemblance to a known language—but that no one but
me seemed to notice.
Internally fused with an unknown power,
his hands caressed the air, pleading, pulling, begging for something
from on high, and with each passing second, my initial impression that
something unearthly had taken possession of his innermost being gained
An aging woman seated up
front … suddenly arose