Last week, the Sunday School lesson was on the Spirit of Elijah — turning the hearts of the fathers to the sons and the hearts of sons to the fathers.
And the lesson was on my mind for days; probably because I was the guy who had to teach the thing.
The Spirit of Elijah is a classic stimulus and response in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The teacher says “Spirit of Elijah” and someone in the class will say “genealogy and temple work.”
But this time things were different — thanks in good measure to a quote included in the text from Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander’s 1999 LDS conference talk.
Said Elder Neuenschwander at the time:
“If I want my children and grandchildren to know those who still live in my memory, then I must build the bridge between them. I alone am the link to the generations that stand on either side of me.”
Suddenly, it seemed to me, we were in new territory.
The Spirit of Elijah seemed larger and deeper than before.
My friend Clive Romney says we often “turn our attention” to our ancestors — do the spade work of getting names and dates. But if we are truly to “turn our hearts” to them we need to get to know them intimately.
What’s more, we not only need to reach back to bond with our fathers, but reach forward — down the generations — and leave enough information and insights about ourselves so our kin to come can bond with us.
The Spirit of Elijah was more than getting names.
It was about making connections — emotional, spiritual, psychological and even physical connections with our departed family members.
And I’m convinced many of our ancestors left clues for us, like Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs, so we could learn to love them.
My great-grandad Jesse T. Rees did. He gave me his favorite books. He told me stories of his life. He let me into his heart.
Even though they’re gone, we need to become “present” in the world of our ancestors by touching the tools they used, the books they read, the things they made and the keepsakes they loved.
We need to visit their stomping grounds, stand where they stood and see what they saw.
We need to see ourselves in their strengths and also their weaknesses.
We often go back into our lineage to find family diseases such as diabetes and cancer. We need to go back and find the positive things as well — a love of dancing, perhaps; or a way with animals; a sense of humor, a fondness for children, a talent for hard work, an abiding faith.
And then we need to do a 180-degree turn and find ways to leave similar "bread crumbs" from our own lives so those who follow can work their way back to us.
We need to give away keepsakes to special relatives while we’re still alive, not just expect our kids to divvy the things up when we’re gone.
We need to tell our stories to the young and impressionable.
We need to let people take our photographs when they point a camera at us and not turn away or complain.
We need to let our descendants see, touch and breathe the legacy we leave.
By strict definition, that may not be the Spirit of Elijah, but I believe it is the spirit of the Spirit of Elijah.
"Turning our hearts” means opening our hearts to those who come in our wake and allowing them a glimpse of what makes us tick.
Perhaps, then, they’ll have a better sense of what makes them tick as well.