Occasionally I come across an article that intrigues me enough to hang on it. That happened again last week, as on CNN.com I read an article on “elevation.” No, I’m not talking about floating in air, or mountain climbing, or fear of heights. This is about something much bigger.
So for starters, I invite you to check out the article. And in true “Trinitarian” fashion, I’ll even give you three openings to read the article. I am aware that you might just decide to skip my reflection. After all, I’m hardly at the level of published authors! Still, once you’ve read the article, I invite you back. It might help you understand where I am coming from, or maybe you will be able to point out how wrong I am. Regardless, read the article!
So here’s your first chance…you can find the article right here: https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/06/europe/pope-elevation/index.html
Now that you have read he article and have returned, or just decided to stick with me, let’s move on. The article explores the phenomenon known as “elevation,” where an individual observes an act of genuine kindness, an act of care from one person to another. The author’s interest was piqued after seeing Pope Francis offering a blessing, first to an older gentleman, then to a younger child, both in wheel chairs. He realized that while something might have happened to them, something definitely happened to him. He was filled with a strange, hard-to-define emotion. Wondering what was going on, he began to search. What he found was that when we observe an act of kindness to others, we ourselves are “elevated” to do something similar. That is to say, witnessing others making a difference leads us to want to do the same.
Even more than that, he says, “the sentiment I felt may be more common than you think, and it can be very contagious.”
Its also rather historical. Thomas Jefferson first identified “elevation,” and explored its dynamics. Primitive in his understanding, perhaps, but Jefferson’s observation is quite profound. You see an event, you have a physical reaction, you experience the motivation to do something similar, and as a result you are uplifted and feel a new sense of optimism. The key, however, is not that you simply feel good – it compels you to want to DO something.
The article digs a little deeper into all of this, so if you haven’t read it yet, here’s your second chance…go read the article, and then come on back!
[Pause for you to read the article…or skip on to the next paragraph!]
Interestingly (for me, at least), the article seems to occasionally dart into the spiritual, and then back out again. It’s as if the author knows that on one level this can be explained by psychology, that this is a psychological phenomenon, a facet of human behavior. And I suppose that, to a certain extent, that is true. This is about behavior, and it has psychological elements – maybe even a lot of them.
But at the same time the author seems aware that there’s something more, that somewhere in all of this, God is at work.
Psychology and human behavior? Probably.
The work of the Holy Spirit? Definitely!
This “elevation” concept affirms that what I do to help someone quite likely makes a difference in their life. My care and concern, my act of kindness, my reaching out to touch their life, my lifting up of their dignity and worth – all of this impacts the life of the other person.
On a deeper level, however, “elevation” says there is more. There is you, the observer, you the one who sees what I am doing, regardless of whether I realize you are watching. You, witnessing what I am doing, do more than merely note my actions. YOU are changed by what I do for someone else, even when I am unaware that are even there. That I can make a difference in the life of the one whom I care for makes sense. But what sense is there in thinking that I touch you, even when I am unaware you even exist?
Unless, of course, I had a little help. Like the Holy Spirit.
So, off I go into the world, seeking to change the life of the one whom I care for, never imagining the impact I have on others. And then, when others are “elevated” to do likewise, I have an indirect impact on even more. Think of the exponential increase in lives touched, changed, and renewed.
And that is the power of witness. Or more properly, the power of witness in the hands of the Holy Spirit. Really, it works!
This past Sunday our text in worship was Luke 24:36b-48. The passage ends with Jesus sending out his disciples to proclaim the good news. Jesus reminds them of the revelation of Holy Scripture, which points us to God’s work of new life in the cross and the empty tomb. And then, in the next verse, just beyond Sunday’s reading, Jesus tells them to wait for the Spirit. Why? Because, it is really the Holy Spirit at work.
But while it is the Spirit’s work, the Spirit works through you and me. The Spirit uses our witness, and then works in the lives of those who see us making a difference, changing them too into “difference makers.”
So here’s my point: Go out into the world to make a difference, but just know that you may very well be making a bigger difference than you ever imagined. Know that even small acts of kindness and care for others, in the hands of the Holy Spirit, might just make a saint or two!
Or, as the article ends: “It’s not a new thing under the sun, but maybe each generation needs to learn the lesson again: Edicts and rules may keep us from behaving like devils, but if you want us to be saints, it helps to show us how.”
And so, if you have not yet read the article, here’s your third chance. Read it. And then, in Biblical language, go and do likewise!