Brought up among ‘the Brethren’ I became literally ‘a boy preacher’ of theirs. So, I was predictably plagued with deep doubts in my mid-twenties after a week or two of a euphoric flow of unknown tongues. What had I let myself in for? I’m glad that I persisted in crying out to God in my new language even in those wilderness days that inevitably followed my ‘Red Sea exodus’, my ‘Dove encounter baptism in Jordan’.
Nowadays, taking a tablet called Ecstasy is illegal. But in those days, Spirit-induced ecstasy was forbidden. I needed biblical answers to my dilemma.
‘In a trance’
‘I was praying,’ Peter testified; ‘and in a trance I saw a vision’ (Acts 11:5, English Standard Version). I had been warned in network magazine articles that any trance was induced by the enemy’s hypnotic spell. Sure, the devil copies and perverts any good gift of the Creator. But in Peter’s story in The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament:.
‘Peter went onto the roof to pray about the sixth hour [= noon]. And he became hungry and wished to eat; and while they prepared, there came on him an ecstasy and behold the heaven having been opened…’ (Acts 10:9-11).
‘I saw in an ecstasy a vision’ (Acts 11:5).
Greek ekstasis = ‘to stand [stasis] out [ek].’ Yet Peter was still capable by analytical thought to reflect on his ecstatic experience:
‘I saw…a great sheet; into which gazing I perceived, and I saw…and I heard…and I said…’(Acts 11:5-8).
‘Now as Peter was in himself doubting…and pondering, the Spirit said…’ (Acts 10:17, 19).
What light has scientific research shed on such an altered state of consciousness? In fact, researchers have noticed the similarities between awareness in dreaming and in trance states for over a hundred years. It is ‘a form of attentive, receptive focal concentration with a sense of parallel awareness and a constriction in peripheral awareness’ (D. Spiegel).
The common trance
The hypnotic-like experience most common in everyday life is that of becoming so absorbed in a good book, movie or play that one loses the customary space-time orientation and enters the imagined world.
Ernest Rossi wrote in 1982: ‘The housewife staring vacantly into space over a cup of coffee, the student with a faraway look in his eyes during the middle of a lecture, and the driver who automatically reaches his destination with no memory of his route, are all varieties of the common everyday trance.’ Information from the external world is inhibited. The brain also disconnects the motor system of the body’s nerve network, with the exception of voluntary muscle paralysis. This prevents the body from acting out any of the experiences that are generated during the dream. And the status of Rapid Eye Movement sleep and dreaming are fundamentally creative brain processes.