And Elijah came to the mountain of God

The quiet days of lockdown from the COVID-19 virus came to an abrupt end as the country watched in disbelief the last almost nine minutes of a person’s life being cruelly taken from him…on camera.

A person.

Created by God.

Loved by God.

Embraced by God.

A person with a name: Mr. George Floyd.

And the country erupted into 14 nights of peaceful protest, greedy looting, and violence.

As I watched I felt horror, helplessness, anger, abandonment, fear….

“And Elijah came to the mountain of God called Horeb.” These words jolted me as I read them one morning this week, trying to find some footholds of meaning in the midst of the cacophony.

“Elijah came to the mountain of God.”

Elijah didn’t turn to the refrigerator, or to the internet, or the news, or television, or pick up a good book (or whatever the equivalent would have been in his day).

He went to the mountain of God called Horeb.

I sat with this word from God spoken so softly into my shattered heart and allowed him to draw me to the mountain of God.

Elijah, you remember the story, was at this point on his own roller coaster of emotions. He had just come off his famous contest with the prophets of Baal. While the prophets of Baal had called out to their god to send down fire to consume the bull, nothing happened. Elijah taunted the 450 prophets of Baal, saying: “Shout louder! Certainly he’s a god! Perhaps he is lost or wandering or traveling somewhere…or maybe he is asleep!” No fire. No response.

Elijah summoned the people to him and called down fire upon his water-soaked altar, showing that the LORD was the one, true God.

Then Elijah commanded God’s people to seize all 450 prophets of Baal, dragged them to the Kishon Brook and killed them.

So convincing was Yahweh’s manifestation of power that Elijah probably believed the whole country would turn from their idolatry and believe in the one true God, including the infamous Queen Jezebel, the woman responsible for Israel’s recent descent into unbelief.

Instead, Jezebel sought to take Elijah’s life like that of the prophets he’d killed. Elijah ran away to save his life.

And the Lord brought him to the mountain of God.

In his competition with the prophets of Baal, the Lord had appeared in fire and amazing power. But on the mountain God did not manifest himself to Elijah in such pyrotechnics. Safe from the clutches of Jezebel who sought his life, the Lord brought Elijah deeper into his own plan. I believe God wanted Elijah to know that it was not Elijah’s plans that would save God’s chosen people, that would evoke their commitment to the God who was their Father. It was the work of the Lord himself. Mysterious. Beyond our comprehension. Somehow so all-embracing that it would even hold within it the infidelity of his children.   

After the wind, earthquake and fire, the Hebrew text says there was the qôl dem̆ āmâ daqqâ.  In Hebrew that literally means, the sound of thin or sheer silence, like we experience after a storm has passed. The NRSV translates it literally as “the sound of sheer silence.” The Common English Bible says “After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet.”

And Elijah came to the mountain of God.

There to learn more about being than doing.

More about listening then proclaiming.

More about interrupted plans than perfect setups for successful ministry.

There are two authors who represent for me this thin and quiet silence found on the mountain of God when we are in times of turbulent unrest and uncertain future: Etty Hillesum and Christophe Libreton. I share below some of their words that are blessing me at this time:

Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman who died at Auschwitz in November, 1943 at the age of twenty nine became, in the shadow of the concentration camps that was cast over her young life, a vibrant, brave woman of great spiritual depth. Her journals were published under the title An Interrupted Life. I am learning from her to value the interruption of life’s unfolding, the wisdom of lamenting, the blessing of burdens that cannot be lifted. The silence imposed upon the heart when we suffer deep down.

July 20 [1942], Monday morning. 9:30:

They are merciless, without pity. And we must be all the more merciful ourselves. That’s why I prayed early this morning:

‘Oh God, times are too hard for frail people like myself. I know that a new and kinder day will come. I would so much like to live on, if only to express all the love I carry within me. And there is only one way of preparing for the new age, by living it even now in our hearts. Somewhere in me I feel so light, without the least bitterness and so full of strength and love.’

July 21, Thursday, 9:00 PM:

It is all a great big mess. I think to myself quite often, against my will as it were. But today I suddenly wondered why I used the word mess in the first place. It is so much hot air and doesn’t make things any better.

The most depressing thing of all is that the mental horizon of the people I work with is so narrow. They don’t even suffer deep down. They just hate and blind themselves to their own pettiness, their intrigue, they are still ambitious to get on, it is all a great big dirty mess, and there are moment when I would like to lay my head down on my typewriter and say, ‘I can’t go on like this.’ But I do go on, learning more about people all the time.

July 24, Friday morning 7:30:

If all this suffering does not help us to broaden our horizon, to attain a greater humanity by shedding all trifling and irrelevant issues, then it will have been for nothing. (Washington Square Press, copyright 1985, page 195ff.)

Christophe Lebreton, OCSO (1950-1996) was the youngest of the seven Trappist monks assassinated in Algeria by terrorists in 1996. I remember the morning that the letter written by the prior of the community Fr. Christian was read shortly after their martyrdom. I have always felt a strong yet mysterious tie to this community, and this discovery of the journal of Fr. Christophe has only served to strengthen this bond. He began the journal four months before the terrorists first visited the monastery and it ends seven days prior to the monks’ kidnapping. There are so many treasures in Christophe’s journal which has been printed under the title: Born from the Gaze of God. He showed me how to step into the story of Jesus unfolding to this day. It is by assuming the authority of humble childhood that we bring to bear the gift of Jesus’ love over against the power random events of terror seem to have over us.

01/11/1994

Good news: there is an authority in this world
            stronger than the powerful,
            an authority unshaken in the face of the terrorists:
            the authority of humility:
            of CRUCIFIED TRUTH.

03/27/1994 Palm (Passion) Sunday

Jesus is the master of events: of what happens to us here…

Jesus, facing the violence in the narrative of his Passion, in Mark. … Jesus’ way of confronting it is to make us sit down at table.

Then facing a murderous decision, this is the space that resists and holds out: a place of essential conviviality, exchange, sharing.

And then something happens: a woman comes in a performs a foolish act that professes her love there in front of everybody. Love for the Beloved.

Like that man at Bologhine who picked up a policeman, wounded by a terrorist, who was lying in the middle of the road, he got him into his car and drove him to the hospital—and saved his life.

And was himself murdered a week later.

…Jesus stands there, facing the violence aimed at him, and says: as for me, I’m going to pray. Anguish. Still he says, “Abba!”

To face murder there’s only interior childhood in its indestructible relation to Abba. Jesus obeys and leaps in—and we along with him.

Onward! Stand up!

Over against the armed gang, Jesus counters with what he is: the Word. He speaks.

07/14/1994

When he appears, he will unclutter everything: I know nothing more. (Cistercian Publications, copyright 2014)

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