[Editor’s Note: This essay resides within Anderson Blanton’s “The Materiality of Prayer,” a portal into Reverberations’ unfolding compendium of resources related to the study of prayer.]
The author’s field recording from a Pentecostal worship service in Virginia, 2010.
The body is man’s first and most natural instrument. Or more accurately, not to speak of instruments, man’s first and most natural technical object, and at the some time technical means, is his body… Before instrumental techniques there is the ensemble of techniques of the body. —Marcel Mauss
During performances of charismatic Christian communal prayer, the din of tangled voices is often punctuated by the percussive sound of disjointed clapping. This explosive manual gesture is neither rhythmic nor gentle, but a frenzied technique of clapping that unleashes Holy Ghost power into the worship milieu. The clap is an “elementary form” of prayer: through a violent collision of flesh and bone, a percussive break opens a space of communication between the sacred and the everyday. Prayer emerges through the body-as-technical-object; manual gestures, bodily attitudes, exercises (genuflections), breath, and perceptual attunements simultaneously open a communicative relay and allow the subject to sense the presence of that which persists outside the enframements of everyday experience. The percussive breaks of hand-prayer are inscribed like ellipses upon the surface of the body through what is called in Pentecostal communities the “Holy Ghost Bumps.” The skin itself registers sacred presence below the level of conscious sensory awareness. The body and its technical attunements open the subject to sensual “discernments” of the spirit.