Journalism question: If your child was attacked by a cougar, would you 'speak in tongues'?


Now here’s a story you don’t see every day, care of USA Today.

The headline on this one is totally faith-free, but it certainly is a grabber: “Woman fights off cougar attacking her son, prying its jaws open. 'Mom instinct,' she says.”

So what is the religion angle here? A reader spotted something really interesting in this story and raised a totally logical question.

First, let’s look at this journalism mystery in context. Here’s the whole overture:

A Canadian woman rushed to save her son after a cougar attacked him last week, prying the animal's jaws off her child, according to local news reports.

How did she do it? "Mom instinct" and prayer, she told CTV News.

Chelsea Lockhart's son was playing outside the family's Vancouver Island home Friday when she heard a fence rattle in the backyard. Then came sounds of a struggle. The mother bolted outside to see her son, Zachery, 7, on the ground with a young cougar attached to his arm, the network reported. She had no time to lose.

"I had a mom instinct, right?" Lockhart said. "I just leaped on it and tried to pry its mouth open."

With her fingers fish-hooked inside the cougar's mouth, Lockhart began "praying in tongues" and "crying out to the Lord," she told CTV News. "Three sentences into me praying, it released and it ran away," she told the network.

Sounds pretty basic, right?

Well, it does if you attend a Pentecostal Protestant congregation or a mainline church — Catholic, even — that has been touched by the charismatic renewal movement during the past three or four decades.

The reader’s question: How many readers would know the meaning of the phrase “praying in tongues” without a single word of background material?

Good question. What if the journalist had used to proper theological term, which is “glossolalia.” Would that have helped? Probably not.

Here is a totally secular definition, in a typical online dictionary. Note the word “imaginary.”

glossolalia (noun)

incomprehensible speech in an imaginary language, sometimes occurring in a trance state, anepisode of religious ecstasy, or schizophrenia.

If you are looking for a more sympathetic definition, one with a bite of New Testament context, here is some material care of, of all places:


Ecstatic utterance as an expression of faith and praise for God. This Greek term designates the phenomenon of "speaking in new tongues" promised in Mk 16:17. For Paul (1 Cor 14:1-20), speaking in tongues is praise of God. It is not edification of the faithful unless an inspired interpreter is available. In Pentecostal churches and the charismatic movement, glossolalia is seen as the fruit of baptism by the Holy Spirit. But Paul was ambivalent about the importance of speaking in tongues for the church (see 1 Cor 14). …

Forget USA Today and the United States, for a minute.

How many readers — especially in highly secular Western Canada — would get this reference?

You see, the original CTV report put the word “miracle” in the lede, but was just as mysterious about this prayer phenomenon. Here’s that quote, about halfway into the story:

"I looked at him and I just thought, 'Oh my god, my kid could die right before my eyes.' All you think is what can you do? What can you do in your own physical strength?"

But that's when Lockhart called out for help from a higher power, which she says made all the difference.

"I knew that in my own power and my own strength, I wasn't going to be able to pry its mouth open. So I start praying in tongues, and I'm just crying out to the Lord, just this really deep from the depths of inside of me," she said. "Three sentences into me praying, it released and it ran away."

The “help from a higher power” phrase is nice. However, the same question remains: How many readers would have any understanding of what “praying in tongues” means?

Oh, by the way, the young boy is fine.

The cougar? That’s more complicated. And there’s a mom angle to that, as well.

The boy has since received stitches for his head wound and is expected to make a full recovery.

"Everybody's recovering today and Zach's resting at his grandma's. We've had so much support from the community that every time I go out, everyone's hugging me and just tearing up, asking how we're doing, and that helps so much," said Lockhart.

Both the cougar that attacked the boy and another juvenile male thought to be its brother were destroyed by conservation officers.

It is believed they had been separated from their mother for a number of months. A necropsy later revealed that the animals were likely starving at the time.

So what do you think? Is “speaking in tongues” now common lingo in Western Canada? Normal USA?

Just asking.

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