Questions and Responses
Doctrinal Commission – International Catholic Charismatic Renewal Services
What is resting in the Spirit? Should it be a cause of concern for renewal leaders? In this response, I share my own experience as a leader in renewal and my reflection as a theologian. These comments apply to all unusual phenomena, of which resting in the Spirit is one of the most common.
My experience (and that of many others) is that when we pray in faith for deeper reception of the Holy Spirit, profound things can begin to happen in people, which may be manifested in laughter, weeping or groaning. These are natural human responses to the overwhelming presence and grace of the Holy Spirit. Over the years I have learned that there are often deep hurts in people, even in those who outwardly appear to be excellent and mature Catholics. I remember how an organizing leader for a conference began to weep; it slowly came out that this leader had been seriously abused in childhood. This painful memory had been suppressed for many years. Today more and more people come from broken homes with little or no experience of loving parents. Some have learned to cope with life, and others have not. The latter are obviously wounded, but the former may look normal and balanced. But when we pray for the Holy Spirit’s deep work, these things begin to surface. In my judgment, this is a good way to understand the benefits of resting in the Spirit. Resting in the Spirit happens when people being prayed for can no longer stand or sit, and they fall back or slide to the floor, and rest on their backs. In the vast majority of cases, resting in the Spirit is very peaceful.
When anything unusual starts to happen, the key question is not how unusual it is. The key question is what is happening spiritually in the person. Often the more unusual things happen when we are praying for a further opening to the Holy Spirit and for the Holy Spirit to work deep healing and sanctification in the person’s life. If we sincerely ask the Father to pour out his Spirit, we should believe that this is what He will give. “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11–13).
How should leaders handle resting in the Spirit and other unusual phenomena? The most important need is for wise and mature leadership, together with solid teaching that is both biblical and faithful to the age-old tradition of the Church. When these two elements are present, there is nothing to fear from unusual phenomena. Why? First, wise leaders will quickly recognize anything that is out of order. They will detect when people’s focus is not on the Lord and there is something wrong with their motivation and their attitude (for example, a focus on emotional excitement). Second, mature leaders will provide sound teaching, which helps to ensure that when people come forward for prayer, they are seeking a deeper union with God and a greater submission to the Lordship of Jesus. There is a close connection between what is taught and what is sought, between teaching and subsequent experience.
Where a person has deep hurts, things may happen that can be disturbing to others, e.g. a time of shaking; in this case, the leaders should calmly take the person to a separate space where prayer can
continue without disruption of the meeting. The fact that the immediate effect of prayer is not peaceful is not a negative sign; pain and emotional hurt are coming to the surface. But such prayer should then lead into peace, as the Lord heals deep places within.
What could be the dangers of this resting? What could be the benefits? A danger is that people can come forward for prayer seeking an experience rather than seeking the Lord. The answer to this is good teaching that emphasizes seeking the Lord and not particular experiences. The potential benefit is that people can receive healing for long-hidden hurts; others receive deep experiences of the Lord’s love and mercy. I remember one man who was taken through the whole Passion of the Lord while resting in the Spirit.
In regard to “falling,” my observation is that in genuine cases this is a form of surrender, as if the person says, “Over to you, Lord,” letting go of the self-possession that keeps the Lord at a safe distance. “Falling” is only a means to an end and is not important in itself. It is the surrender that is important, for we are allowing the Holy Spirit to work at levels beyond our conscious control. How do we know that we are not opening ourselves to alien forces? The context makes all the difference: when the context is authentic worship of the Lord, with real faith in his goodness and grace, then the Father will not give us a stone.
Falling down and getting up after one minute is not a fruitful exercise. This is the most common problem that I see: people think that falling is the key thing, and so they put the emphasis in the wrong place. The terminology of “being slain in the Spirit” should be avoided. That places the emphasis on the phenomenon of falling and introduces a violent image that is not appropriate.
Why is all this happening today? Maybe it is because we live in an increasingly noisy and frenetic society where people have little time to reflect, to relax and to just be. This may explain why people may need to stop all activity, stop straining and just let go and yield themselves to the work of the Spirit.
Father Peter Hocken