Continuing his practical focus from Chapter 5, Stringfellow discusses the charismatic gifts in Chapter 6 and how the gifts support our resistance to death, how the gifts humanize life in the Fall.
For Stringfellow the foundational gift is "discerning the spirits." According to Stringfellow "discerning the signs and spirits" is learning to read the world biblically, which means apocalyptically and eschatologically. Two fancy words there. For Stringfellow, reading the world apocalyptically means discerning truth from lies in the dehumanizing forces facing us in the world. Apocalypse means "unveiling." Discerning the spirits is lifting the veil of lies to see the forces of death at work in the background, the forces we cannot see because of the babel produced by the principalities and powers. For Stringfellow, reading the world eschatologically is placing those dehumanizing forces under judgment and living in hope.
Stringfellow describing the gift of discernment:
Discerning signs has to do with comprehending the remarkable in common happenings, with perceiving the saga of salvation within the era of the Fall. It has to do with the ability to interpret ordinary events in both apocalyptic and eschatological connotations, to see portents of death where others find progress or success but, simultaneously, to behold tokens of the reality of Resurrection or hope where others are consigned to confusion or despair. Discerning the signs does not seek spectacular proofs or await the miraculous, but, rather, it means sensitivity to the Word of God indwelling in all Creation and transfiguring common history, while remaining radically realistic about death's vitality in all that happens.This is one of my most favorite Stringfellow passages. What is the gift of discernment? It is discerning the remarkable in common happenings. Perceiving the saga of Salvation all around us. Interpreting ordinary events in biblical ways. Seeing portents of death where others find progress and success. And finding tokens of resurrection where there is confusion and despair.
In summarizing the gift of discernment Stringfellow says, "In the midst of babel, speak the truth."
Truth telling--reading the world biblically--is a charismatic gift that allows us to find and care for our humanity in the midst of the Fall.
Stringfellow goes on to describe three other gifts--speaking in tongues, healing and exorcism. In each case Stringfellow is less concerned with the personal and "miraculous" experience of these gifts than with the political character of the charismatic gifts:
It spares Christians, and others, the pitfalls of vain, exotic, individualistic, and exclusive views of the charismatic gifts to treat them, as the Bible does, politically...Speaking in tongues at Pentecost expressed "the emancipation of human beings from the bonds of nation, culture, race, language, ethnicity." Speaking in tongues recognizes a universal humanity--of which the church is a sign--stripped of the false divisions created and maintained by the principalities and powers.
Each and every charismatic gift is concerned with the restoration and renewal of human life in society. All have to do with how, concretely, human beings are enabled to cope with the multiple and variegated claims of death. The charismatic gifts furnish the only powers to which humans have access against the aggressions of the principalities. The gifts dispel idolatry and free human beings to celebrate Creation, which is, biblically speaking, integral to the worship of God. The gifts equip persons to live humanly in the midst of the Fall. The exercise of these gifts constitutes the essential tactics of resistance to the power of death.
More, speaking in tongues represents the ability of the church to speak freely and spontaneously in the midst of babel. Speaking in tongues represents the church speaking in her own voice and language. Life-giving words that cannot be co-opted, controlled or censored by the powers.
Healing is less about physical healing than a declaration that the threat of death--a threat made by the powers--holds no fear for the confessing community. Consequently, a community freed from the threat of death falls outside systems of control as death is the means of coercion wielded by the powers, the state especially. As Stringfellow says,
To so surpass death is utterly threatening politically, it shakes and shatters the very foundation of political reality because death is, as has been said, the only moral and political sanction of the State...[Resurrection exemplifies] life transcending the moral power of death in this world and this world's strongholds and kingdoms.Finally, exorcism is casting out the spirituality of death. Exorcism, thus, sits at the heart of the Christian resistance to death. As Stringfellow points out, the Lord's Prayer is itself "a form of exorcism." In invoking God and asking for protection from "evil" and "the evil one" the Lord's Prayer is a "act of exorcism."
Stringfellow goes on to describe how exorcism can be expressed as "sacramental protest" against the forces of death. For example, he describes the actions of the Catonsvile Nine, who burned Vietnam draft cards with homemade napalm while saying the Lord's Prayer, as a "liturgy of exorcism."
Such are the practices, according to Stringfellow, which humanize life during the Fall.
Link to Epilogue