This weekend, around the feast of Pentecost, I’ve been on a trip hauling passengers across a couple of states before returning home. My family decided to have a yard sale this weekend and my oldest daughter, Samantha, now 8, went through her toys to sell what she doesn’t play with anymore. My wife, Amanda, told me at the end of the day what had been sold, and there in that list were toys that brought up vivid memories of playing with Samantha when she was younger. I was saddened by the loss of these toys. Really, though, I was saddened about the loss of what I remember in those moments when she was 3 and 4 and I would sit on the floor and play with her with a Minnie Mouse doll.
The truth is, being away from the people you love is hard. When I am on these trips I live in my memories of my wife and kids and I cherish all the times we had and hopefully will continue to have. But living in the memories has its limits. My daughter is no longer 3. She is a vibrant, maturing, beautiful and inquisitive 8 years old. While she might not still fall asleep on my lap watching Barney, she does hug me close and write me notes and want to share jokes she’s made up. The little girl that I held in my arms isn’t gone. All that made her beautiful and lovely is still inside her, combining the experiences of the subsequent years to form her into who she is today, because our existence isn’t just our past or our present. It is the fullness of both folded into and looking ahead toward our potential selves.
I’ve been reflecting on the Pentecost story in Acts this week as we lead up to its feast day. The lectionary selection gives us only one part of the story: the Spirit of God falling upon the followers of Jesus as they gathered for worship and fellowship. The story is filled with wondrous images of how God was working. It would be a mistake, though, to isolate this section of the story and call it Pentecost. The feast of Pentecost marks the closing of the Easter season which began 50 days ago with the resurrection, itself a closing of the Lenten season which began some 50 days before that. Lent is a continuation of the telling of the life of Jesus begun in ordinary time and Christmas, the latter a capstone to the Advent season of waiting. And just as Pentecost isn’t the beginning, the story of the Spirit falling on the disciples at Pentecost doesn’t end there. It goes on to tell of the early church growing up together in prayer, teaching, and eucharistic contemplation.
Living in the individual memories of particular times is a beautiful way to re-capture and remember something that changed us, warmed up, nurtured us. On the Feast of Pentecost we remember how our forebears were overcome with the divine presence of a God who didn’t want to leave the family behind, of a God who, just like us, doesn’t want to be alone. To see the biggest picture of who God is and who we are, however, we need to zoom out. The Pentecost story is one part, one memory of God wanting to be with us as we grow up and live into our full potential as humanity and as creation.
We are not alone, and because of that we are not just one aspect of our past or an isolated glimpse of our presence. We are the sum of every person that we have been, morphing together into the promise of who we are yet to be. We may not any longer be the church in Jerusalem sitting in an upper room near the Temple, praying in hope in the weeks following Jesus’ death. But that is still part of who we are just as much as every other part of our story as the Church. Samantha isn’t 3, playing with a Minnie Mouse doll and watching Barney, but that sweet little girl is still part of her and still part of me, too.
This Pentecost (and Pentecost-tide), cherish the moments of life and wonder of being in the hope and life of God. Then zoom out and look at the whole picture of your life, the life of your community and family, the life of the church, the life of creation. See God at work in new and spectacular ways. And never forget that God is remembering us, too, and delighting in who we were, are, and will be.