cover image When I Spoke in Tongues: A Story of Faith and Its Loss

When I Spoke in Tongues: A Story of Faith and Its Loss

Jessica Wilbanks. Beacon, $26.95 ISBN 978-0-8070-9223-1

Wilbanks, winner of a Pushcart Prize for essay writing, debuts with the captivating story of how she turned away from God. She eloquently explores her long journey from being a Pentecostal Christian who spoke in tongues to being an atheist. Wilbanks tells of her childhood growing up in a dilapidated farmhouse in Maryland where she would mark up her Precious Moments Bible with pink highlighter. Throughout college she slowly begins to recognize the “metallic coil of anxiety buried deep in my belly” that came from the questioning of her religious upbringing. As a graduate student, having rejected her childhood faith but curious to know its roots, Wilbanks researched the Pentecostal movement. She includes portraits of such people as William Seymour, a poor man living on Azusa Street in California, and wealthy Enoch Adeboye from Nigeria, who changed her thinking about Pentecostalism, which had become derisive after her conversion to atheism. As Wilbanks learned more about her childhood religion, she visited Africa and was appalled that clergy and laity punishes children as witches: “You had to look closely to see the scars.” Whether writing of these scars, her dad’s rusty pickup trucks, or massive Pentecostal revivals in Lagos, Wilbanks captures the scene beautifully. Wilbanks’s slow deconstruction of her family-given religiosity is an evocative inversion of the average spiritual journey. (Nov.)