After the rushing wind and the fiery tongues, after the amazement of the crowds and the preaching of Peter, I read that the new converts shared their possessions in common and broke bread together. They listened and learned from one another. And they prayed for one another (Acts 2:37–47).
Every instance of people forming such communities makes me think that God exists in this weary, broken world. Does that sound too preachy?
Occasionally, when someone discovers that I am a pastor, she or he will want to challenge the notion of God’s existence. Most often this interlocuter will point to the tragic and terrible– the shootings, the floods, the cancers– as a way to disprove the idea of a loving, creative force in control. Fair enough. I’m quick to say that I don’t have a pat answer to the questions of suffering, pain or loss. Then I will share about the poet Charlotte Matthews and her “God Exists” list.
Instead of doctrine, dogma or any kind of argument, my friend Charlotte keeps a running tally of happenstances, hints and hopes that bring her welcomed comfort and surprising joy. Like once after the end of a terrible day she walked out of a convenience store lugging a microwavable supper and, for some reason, just happened to glance down. She saw a cheap plastic keychain that read I Love You. Charlotte tells me that she never takes off examples from the God Exists list. She only adds.And so here’s a story from my life:
On Wednesday I attended my oldest son’s kindergarten graduation. This is a thing now. Boys and girls marched dutifully to the front of a sweltering multipurpose room stuffed with parents, grandparents and younger siblings. The grads sang what sounded to me like vaguely patriotic nursery rhymes accompanied by a recording. This was fine, I guess, but nothing evoking the Divine. Until there was a musical interlude on the soundtrack. Then 150 kindergarteners simultaneously busted into air guitar solos! Oh yes, there were many squinting, snarling rock-and-roll faces! There was unity to the joyful chaos, a common force in each person’s unique, individual expression, and I was caught up in it. Afterward I realized that it was a Pentecostal moment.
I do plan to preach on Sunday. In response to questions of God’s existence, I’m thinking about framing this year’s Pentecost sermon around some wondering, some wonder. I read an erudite commentary titled the Miracle of Pentecost. Sounds fine. But what if we have it all backwards about miracles? What if, by miracle, we should not think of the extraordinary, the rare or the impossible but actually the ordinary, the daily and the momentous in the moment? What if miracles of the Spirit are everywhere just as surely as your air guitar is always in tune?
After the air guitar solos, students and families filed back into the classrooms for an after party. The pomp of ceremony was replaced with cake, cookies and candy. That sugar hit the graduates’ bloodstreams like electrified power chords, and we adults were trying to pull our kids down from the ceilings in order to pose for pictures. But by some chance there was a lull and I just happened to be there watching as a recent grad, his clip-on tie askew, pilfered his abuela’s iPhone. Grinning to beat the band, he wrapped one arm in a side hug around a giggling classmate with blond pigtails and, with the other arm, stretched the phone out for a selfie of the two of them. In previous years, I have focused my Pentecost sermon on Joel’s prophecy. Here was evidence of the miraculous existence of “glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46).
ANDREW TAYLOR-TROUTMAN is pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church, a congregation in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and has a certificate in narrative healthcare. His recent essays have been published online at Mockingbird and his poetry at Bearings. He and his wife, Ginny, have three children.