Imaging the brain while talking in tongues

I live about 100 miles from Colorado Springs, where tongues have been wagging of late about the antics of the Rev. Ted Haggard, a national evangelical leader who resigned his post as minister of the 14,000-member New Life Church under accusations of frolicking with a gay prostitute and purchasing methamphetamine

My first thought was “Thank God this didn’t happen in Tennessee,”  but Haggard’s choice of recreational drug led me to comment to friends, “well, that explains the talking in tongues.” 

The devil made me say that.  I have no evidence that the good reverend ever took up glossolalia, which is the technical term for what is described in the Biblical book of Acts as “tongues of fire” descending on the Apostles and causing them to speak in languages unknown to them. Talking in tongues is a central part of worship in Pentecostal churches, where parishioners believe that the spirit of God descends upon them and makes itself known by this behavior. 

Whatever causes it, talking in tongues certainly livens up church services.  Today’s New York Times contains an article describing how researchers at Penn took images of the brains of five women while they were talking in tongues. The leader of the study is quoted as saying “the amazing thing was how the images supported people’s interpretations of what was happening.” 

Researchers focused their imaging equipment on blood flows in particular areas of the brains, and were able to “pinpoint blood-flow peaks and valleys unique to speaking in tongues.”

The article doesn’t say what sort of imaging equipment was used, but it must have been an MRI.  Whatever you think of talking in tongues, you have to admire the mental concentration of the women who could reach spiritual ecstasy while inside one of those claustrophobic, tunnel-like chambers amid the loud, knocking sounds that take place when the instrument is running. 

The Lord does indeed work in mysterious ways. 

A Neuroscientific Look at Speaking in Tongues – New York Times


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