Inspiration struck during last week's sermon. Even if that word, Inspiration, hadn't been at the start of the previous sentence, I would've capitalized it. Inspiration. I forget about the saying relating inspiration and perspiration, but I don't think I ever agreed with it. I doubt inspiration cares how much you sweat. What if it just comes and those who have been waiting their whole lives, toiling away in mediocrity or even goodness, want to give themselves some credit for falling into amazing? That deer you saw grazing in the forest on your walk--it didn't show up to reward you for all those fruitless nature strolls. The world is just shockingly random, and we prefer to lend credence to hard work paying off rather than hearing about the tender balance of those who pined but never saw the day greatness came or who deserved anything but a visit from the Muse and got it anyway. It defies our sense of justice, and shouldn't it? That's not the world we've imagined. Anyway, about 100 of us were gathered in the sanctuary, 10 distracted by the off-kilter hymn lyrics and the rest just trying to make foreign sounds fast enough to synchronize their joyful noises. A dear friend, a poet, penned the term "growing strange together" in one of her verses, and isn't that all we ever do, grow strange together? With liturgical predictability (only don't call it a liturgy, we're Baptists here), we passed the peace, heard from the children and jangled the offering bowls, and then sat down, ready to rest our legs and maybe hear something that would, if not unite us, at least move us from wherever we found ourselves that morning.
And then it happened. The pastor began to describe a scene from Acts 2, where 120 were gathered to wait on the Lord, not really knowing what that meant or what would come, but just waiting. And then the fire and the languages and the accusations of drunkenness (what a rebuttal--if you find a libation that makes you fluent in rare and/or politically valuable languages, please let me know in the comments). I'd heard it before in sermons, usually followed by theological treatise on cessationism, but Inspiration happened instead. My ears plugged and my eyes bulged--what in the world was I reading? People randomly speaking other languages? What do you do with that, after all? That's unheard of, that's unsettling, that's confusing. I think my vocabulary of miracles has been cross-pollinated with David Copperfield illusions and Touched by an Angel reruns. There was no sleight of hand; there was no tinkling piano and soft lighting. Just a crew of people everyone probably thought were too weak to let go of their delusions, suddenly bridging and reversing Babel with their cries.
It was violent, thinking about miracles as a centripetal force toward the divine. I had always thought of the pain and emptiness of suddenly finding that thing that made the Gospel false. What if, one day, this general consensus appeared on the basis of irrefutable evidence that Jesus never even existed? How crushed would I be? And I know that's the deal, Paul was not ignorant of the hinge. The thought had always been unsettling. But run your hand across the mirror, Payton. Wouldn't it be equally scandalous to find that the story is true, after all, from someone who could suddenly tell you why in a tongue you were sure they didn't know until that moment?
I couldn't get away from that, especially in a land where messages communicated in my native tongue were held especially close. That image of 120 people shouting out, probably not knowing what they were saying, somehow buttressed and destroyed what I thought I knew about the early church. Had I accepted a high-gloss theology of miracles and in that acceptance denied them their visceral power? Especially in this season, so in need of recalibration, I must not forget what Dillard calls the "scandal of particularity". He had to have come. It's the only thing that matters, his actual coming. May oxen low and sheperds abide and all the rest be pushed aside, and may I not forget that he came to offend my sensibilities with his paradox. It is a strange time, indeed.