The first time I stepped into an elevator was in a high-rise SunTrust Bank building in downtown Atlanta. One of the parishioners at my new parish - All Saints - had invited me to join him for breakfast. I arrived in the lobby looking all surprised and dumbfounded. Having been directed by one of the security officers to an elevator, I joined other people who looked like employees of the bank in one of the multiple elevators. I don’t remember the exact floor, but it was very high. When I walked in, I didn’t know what to do but someone who looked at my confused face asked me which floor, I mentioned the floor number, and then he/she pressed a button. The door closed, and there I was, being lifted high.
Ever since my first ride, I have been on countless elevators that run into the mid tens. I knew about elevators because I saw them in movies and read about them in books. But riding in one for the first time was something else - it was a good feeling being lifted up. What I came to realize on the ride up was that the elevator would stop, the doors would open, and some folks would get off. "Interesting," I said to myself. Each floor had its own passengers.
Over time, what I have come to appreciate about the elevator is that it doesn’t climb sideways - it only climbs up and down. And the uniqueness of being in one is that people get off and join as you climb up, and people get off and join in as you climb down. So, whether we’re going up or down, people get on or step off. And that, alone, is the nature of life - people join in or step out of our lives whether we are climbing up or down. But the sad reality is that oftentimes when people step out of the elevators of our lives, either by death or by deeds of shame, we fail to do the hard work of going to the basement, that metaphorical place where you are the only person who has access. And in the basement, our primary question is not why, but how.
I share a story of a parishioner, Cheryl, who lost her husband, Richard several years ago. Richard was a beloved member of Christ Church. According to Cheryl, upon the death of Richard, Saturdays became the most difficult of days. Prior to his passing, Saturdays were one of the important days of their lives where they got together and did something fun and enriching. But here she was, dreading each upcoming Saturday and the wonderful memories that flooded her thoughts. Feeling lonely and despairing, her response to her Saturdays was a trip down to the basement.
See, as the elevator climbs up and down, and as people get off or on, the one button in the elevator that we hardly press is the one that takes us to the basement…the very place of our lives where we go to make sense of everything that happens in it. The very place where we ask ourselves some of the most difficult questions of our lives. The very place where, like Cheryl, we acknowledge that Richard is no longer on the elevator, and Saturdays wouldn’t be the same, but if I want to make the best out of each and every Saturday, what do I do? How do I do it?
Some of us, indeed, are satisfied with the daily mundane of the elevator going up and down. If it ever occurs to us at all, we hardly reflect on why someone got on at a particular floor in our lives, or why someone got off at a particular floor in our lives.
I was in Atlanta a couple of weeks ago for a conference. One of the seminars was on the last floor - the 25th floor - of a hotel. The floor was covered with glass. I could view as far into the distance as my eyes could see. Being on the last floor may be synonymous with being on a mountain top. In traditional Jewish thought, the mountain top - being the highest point - was where one could meet God. Think about Moses on Mount Sinai. Think about Jesus with Peter, James, and John on the mountain top during the Transfiguration of Jesus. Think about how you’ve climbed up. All you see is up. It is fun to be moving on up.
Being up or on the mountain top often commands a peculiar aura; it is one of invincibility, pride, and a false sense of self-importance. The elevator does take us up there, and looking downwards we may feel like being on top of the world. The tragedy is that we tend to forget that the elevator which took us up to the last floor is often the same elevator which will bring us down to the ground floor - where we have to walk into that metaphorical basement ourselves.
There’s a story in scripture where Satan took Jesus to the highest mountain and showed him all the splendor of the world and its riches. He then promised Jesus that he would give all to him if he were to bow down and worship him. To understand why Jesus rejected this proposal is to understand why we have to create that metaphorical basement for the purpose of asking how.
Life is full of ups and downs, and so is the elevator - it goes up, and it comes down. And so whether you are up or down, give thanks to God. St. Paul admonishes us with these words “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
To understand your own desire to give thanks and to live thankfully, you must be willing to go to the metaphorical basement - that place in your heart where you are the only person who holds the key, and ask how.
If your elevator hasn’t already taken you there, then the one thing limiting you is yourself.