The stories we hear from the Bible this Sunday speak about God overcoming all that torments and destroys us. Elijah the prophet has been an inspiring figure of faith, a man to look up to, someone willing to challenge a powerful king and queen and yet in our reading today we hear of Elijah fleeing for his life, depressed and in fear. What makes all the difference is he encounters God – not in dramatic power but in a quiet and stillness that touches him to the core and propels him back into a life of service.
Likewise in the Gospel Jesus heals a man possessed and sends him back to his community whole and sound, telling everyone he met how much his life was changed by Jesus.
The account of Elijah hiding in a cave on Mount Carmel is a powerful story. You could say he was suffering from burnout. A bit like the disciples after Jesus’ crucifixion trying to make themselves invisible by hiding behind locked doors, Elijah’s life at this moment is marked by fear. In order to deal with his fear, he goes to a place of solitude, away from the demands of life, away from pressures of work. He needs to find a place where he can recover, re-centre his life. The story of the powerful wind, the earthquake and the fire that he encountered at the mouth of his cave, seemed to mirror his life. He had been a force of nature, a powerful figure who confronted evil and injustice, but he had also been a destroying fire. And it seemed that God wanted to show him that power comes in many forms, and not all are helpful.
We live in a very busy world, cluttered by words and noise, where power is often mis-used to control by force, to dominate by fear, to mislead. However, the purpose and power of God is always used to bring order to our chaos, freedom from our fear, light to our darkness and above all life in all its fullness. Yes, God’s power is used to confront evil and injustice by words of truth that exposes falsehood and injustice, and that can be confronting. Yet for Elijah at the mouth of his cave it wasn’t the terrifying displays of nature that arrested his attention, it was the very presence of God in the still small voice, the sound of a gentle whisper, a thick silence, that cut him to the core, and he knew himself in the presence of the Holy.
If you were to walk into my study at the Manse today, you would think that some force of nature has thrown everything into chaos. The bookshelves are empty, and boxes clutter the space, and papers lie everywhere, so that there is hardly room to move. Sorting, discarding and packing up while continuing to prepare for worship and visit members of the congregation means living with a lot of chaos. So, like Elijah I value the times of solitude and silence where I can allow the busyness and demands of life to wash over me as I listen for the still small voice of God that brings peace.
On my desk there is a Celtic blessing which I have kept since my stay on the Island of Iona in Scotland over 40 years ago and I want to share it with you as you navigate the pressures and demands of your lives.
Deep peace of the Running Wave to you
Deep peace of the Flowing Air to you
Deep peace of the Quiet Earth to you
Deep peace of the Shining Stars to you
Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you