An article from The New York Times a few years ago reported on a small study from a small town, that bore intriguing results. San Pedro Manrique in Spain is known for its annual fire-walking ritual. Villagers turn out en masse, along with lots of spectator-tourists. Researchers were interested in exploring how people connected around community ceremonies, and whether there were any physical/biological responses to the experience. There was some resistance to the testing, but eventually the investigators convinced several fire-walkers, people who were related to fire-walkers by family or friendship, and spectators who were from out of town to wear heart rate monitors. The results surprised the scientists.
The heart rates of friends and families were very closely associated with those of the fire-walkers, while the heart rates of the spectators were not. This was true before, during, and after the ritual. One conclusion that might be drawn from the experiment is that when we know people well, we have deeper empathy for them and their situation.
You’ve seen this if you’ve ever attended a music recital or youth sporting event. When your own child is at the piano, you lean forward in your chair and listen for every note that you’ve heard a million times in your living room. If he hits a wrong chord, you feel it in your bones. When the teen at the free throw line is your daughter, or niece, or a friend’s kid, you watch more intently and feel the success or failure more deeply.
The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one…[from John 17]
When the heart of God beats within us, our own hearts want to join with the hearts of others, that we may be one. We forget this to our spiritual peril when we fail to empathize with people of another race, nationality or language, home town, sexual orientation or gender identity, income status, or religion. If we view news footage of refugees fleeing danger and we don’t feel anything, we have silenced the heart of God that makes us one. If we hear the stories of people who are struggling from the actions of others and we don’t sense a connection to their pain, then we have some reconnecting to do with God’s heart.
It is the heartbeat of God that makes our hearts beat together, that brings us into unity despite our differences to care for both neighbor and stranger. As our hearts learn to beat in union, humanity grows closer to the solidarity and peace every heart desires.
© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier