1 Kings 19:1-18
With ice outside and temperatures plummeting, my wife and I retreated indoors. We decided to give the television a try, but hard to find something to watch when there so many channels to choose from. We finally settled on, of all things, a low-budget film on the life of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. It turns out that Thérèse (born Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin) is one of the most popular saints in the history of the church because of the simplicity of her relationship with Jesus. Having overcome several obstacles, in 1888 at the age of 15, Thérèse became a nun and joined two of her elder sisters in the cloistered Carmelite community of Lisieux, Normandy. After nine years in veritable religious seclusion, she died of tuberculosis. Granted, the quality of production was suspect, but the story itself was even more so. It left us questioning the wisdom and value of confining love for Jesus to sterile environs.
There is a more dramatic story in the Old Testament about the prophet Elijah who fled from Jezebel after a great victory over her false prophets on, ironically, Mount Carmel. He was afraid of losing his life and found refuge in a mountain cave. What is special about this story is that at the very moment he felt safe and hidden, he heard a voice calling, “Go outside!” That was precisely the opposite of what he wanted to do because he felt exposed outside the cave, and you take risks like that only when you think they might improve your situation. He acquiesced, went outside, and a fierce wind began to howl against him. As if that were not enough, an earthquake followed. It must have taken all his strength to stand up against the gale at the very moment that he felt no firm ground on which to stand. Later, a fire from heaven threatened to engulf him. As the story goes, after he withstood all these threats, there followed a gentle breeze, and when Elijah heard and felt it, he covered his face with his clothing, because he knew that God was near.
At times we withdraw from some things or perhaps even everything in order to better hear God speak, or, at the very least, to hear ourselves think. These moments hold potential for becoming sacred times, spiritual markers that help us make sense out of the jumbled messes of our lives. But these quiet times are to prepare us for something, not remove us from anything. Elijah shows us that when we face our fear rather than hide from it, our eyes are opened to new perspectives within and outside ourselves. Faith enabled him to see that God was not threatening to smother him, but rather spoke to him as he showed him where his responsibilities towards his people lay. Faith and fear can go hand in hand when our faith leads us to come outside. When we take that step, God is there.