Last week in my advanced grammar class, I explained to my students that to be isn't always a linking verb. We looked at a pair of sentences: I think. Therefore, I am.
"They're grammatically identical," I said. "Subject + verb. I am simply means I exist."
Days later, I'm in church waiting for a renovations discussion to morph into the worship service proper. It's a new church for my family. We sit in our pew, my husband, Kris, pretending interest in the building plans, our daughter Lulu folding a church bulletin into a paper airplane I fear she'll sail any second over the people in front of us. Our other daughter, Charlotte, studiously copies into her journal scriptural names for God from an enormous banner covering the front wall.
I follow her gaze upward. Alpha and Omega. The True Vine. Prince of Peace. The Lamb of God. The names compete for attention in color and size and font, some written aslant, some straight up, some vining between other names, still others glittering with sequins. Names in greens and blues all but disappear into the green background. As a woman chatters about the church's unwelcoming entryway, I squint to decipher a clump of turquoise letters. Suddenly, from behind them, in black capital letters larger than any others on the banner, the sentence from my grammar class leaps out of the jumble of words, as if shouted into the congregation: I AM!
I Exist! I hear—or translate—in my head. All at once it's no longer just another name for God—not merely the Great I Am—but an emphatic statement booming forth from the invisible sky beyond banner and wall. I AM! God thunders, or so it seems in that moment. I AM! Here! Now! I Exist, You Dummies!1