What Really Happens at Liberty University: Part I (Receiving the Holy Spirit)

Although Liberty University’s roots are of the Southern Baptist variety, Christian students from all denominations enroll—including Pentecostals. Two of them, Nate and Mike, lived right down the hall from me. They were the leaders of my Thursday night prayer group which, as an on-campus student, I was required to attend. One night, they were telling us about being baptized with the Holy Spirit.

“You are directly in the presence of God, as close to Him as you can be,” Nate said.

I was undergoing a spiritual crisis. Though I had previously been eager in the pursuit of righteousness— during my senior year of high school, I declined to join National Honor Society because they required an oath at the induction ceremony (James 5:12 forbade it), I stopped listening to secular music, I even wore the Ten Commandments on a sandwich board in protest of the separation of church and state—the restrictive nature of The Liberty Way, our code of conduct, turned my willing sacrifices into mandatory surrender.

Among other things, there were prohibitions on dancing and any romantic touching beyond holding hands. As a male, my hair couldn’t touch my eyebrows, ears or collar, and I had to take out my earring. Conservative Christians claim to promote freedom, but they have no problem with fascism so long as it’s privately funded.

“You can feel the Holy Spirit inside of you, filling all the empty corners of your soul with love and light,” Nate continued.

I was presented with an opportunity to regain the joy I had lost. So after the rest of the prayer group awkwardly declined and ran for their rooms, I stayed behind to receive the Holy Spirit.

This practice comes from the Bible in Acts. The Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles, and a group of disciples in the form of a flame appeared over their heads. Everyone present was able to hear anyone speaking in their own native language or tongue. These modern day mystics have taken that passage and, literally, went crazy with it. During worship, they will jump up and down, shake wildly, roll around on the floor and bark out long strings of gibberish that they say is the language of God.

Nate led me to a chair. He hit the lights, telling me, “A word or a syllable will pop into your head. Just go with it. Let them pour out of you.” Mike put on some kind of trippy house music. Nate laid his hands on my head while praying emphatically for Jesus to let his “spirit rain down.” Every so often he pressed down in a CPR-like gesture as though he was pumping God into my soul. Meanwhile, Mike was hopping around in the corner all “Schlekamonavouliteyo.” Quietly at first, then progressively louder.

I bowed my head and prayed for God to take away my doubts and fill me with the Holy Spirit. “Don’t let this place take away all my joy,” I begged.

No response. No spontaneous burst of gibberish.

By then, Nate was Schlekamonavouliteyo-ing too and rubbing his hands on my head like he was kneading the Spirit of God into my soul. Mike joined him, and now I had four hands on my head, neck, and shoulders, pressing and plying. I knew there was no sinister intent, but it felt dark. It felt like they were trying to take my soul rather than giving me a new one.

I balled myself up on the floor, lying prostrate with my face in my hands. I was scared and even shaking a little. I wanted them stop, but they kept getting louder and rougher in their movements. They roamed their hands over my torso, echoing Harry Potter’s Parseltongue in my ears. I buried my face deeper into my hands, trying to escape.

I was in such a frenzied state of mind that I felt like I could let go and start babbling like them. It didn’t feel supernatural. It felt like a psychotic break.

Then I realized that maybe that’s all they were doing. Maybe that’s all any of it was: the ecstasy I felt when singing a worship song, the peace I felt when in a deep prayer. Maybe it was all just a product of my mind.

That revelation made me feel powerful, but it wasn’t coming from any outside source. It was already inside of me, and I had just woken it up. Nate and Mike were still going at it on my back. I sat up straight and pushed them back.

They both looked at me like something was wrong. Nate asked, “What happened? Did you receive any holy words?”

“Good night,” I said and walked back to my dorm room.