“I came into this project wanting to understand the question: How are rational, sensible, educated people able to sustain faith in an invisible being in an environment of skepticism?” — Tanya Luhrmann, anthropologist
Luhrmann attended Sunday church where members danced, swayed, cried, and raised their hands as a sign of surrender to God. She attended weekly home prayer groups whose members reported hearing God communicate to them directly. She hung out, participated, took notes, recorded interviews, and “tried to understand as an outsider how an insider to this evangelical world was able to experience God as real and personal and intimate.” Members told her about having coffee with God, seeing angel wings, and getting God’s advice on everything from job choice to what shampoo to buy.
Luhrmann’s provocative theory is that the church teaches those who pray to use their minds differently than they do in everyday life. They begin by holding conversations with God in their heads, modeled on the kind of chummy conversations they’d have with their best friends. As they talk to Him, tell Him about their problems, and imagine His wise counsel and loving response, they are training their thoughts, much as people use weights to train their muscles. The church encourages them to tune in to sounds, images, and feelings that are louder or more intense or more unfamiliar or more powerful — and to interpret these internal cues as the external voice of God.
How evangelicals hear the voice of God