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Hildy Tail: The Weary Prophet (1 Kings 19:1-10)

This week we are featuring one of our Hildy Tails. This series of essays were composed last year for our Sustainers Circle. They were dictated to John by the Abbey’s mascot, Hildy the Monk-ey. Hildy is a bit of a free spirit who likes to entertain and doesn’t normally feel constrained by conventional story structure . . . or grammar, in general. She lives by the motto that “all stories are true; some actually happened.” We wanted to share them with you, our wider Abbey community, to give you a small monkey-sized, humorous perspective on some biblical passages and stories of the saints. 

Hello and welcome to yet another reflection/rant by me, Hildy, your friendly abbey mascot!

I hope ye are well. And I just want to start by reassuring everyone that we are back to weird biblical figures, after last month’s brief tangent into weird saintly figures. 

Today’s story is about the prophet Elijah, and is from the book of 1 Kings. Elijah is one of John’s favourite prophets (trust me; don’t ask him to list his favourite prophets in order; not NEARLY as exciting as you might think it). In fact, the reason Elijah is one of John’s favourites is because of what happens after the story I’m gonna talk about today. Elijah goes to the top of the mountain and encounters God, not in the big natural-disastery-things, but in the tiny whispering sound. It’s a beauty moment from the sacred text and I won’t try to get into it now, as John would just interrupt a bunch of times before taking over completely.

So, let’s focus on the story that I want to tell today. Only . . . I do need to back up and get a bit of a running start at the story first. You see, the reason Elijah is on the mountain with God to begin with is because he was running away from persecution. So let me explain that bit first (warning: it gets a bit gory). And then I’ll eventually get to the weird middle part eventually (I promise!).

Now as ye may know the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures weren’t normally lone figures. Like Elijah (originally), they were part of a school or group of prophets, perhaps with a leader or spokes person (who gets most, if not all of the credit). Elijah’s wee band of prophets were being persecuted (killed!) by the evil Queen Jezebel, who was leading her husband, King Ahab, and the Israelites far from the Covenant and back into the arms of the pagan god Ba’al. When Elijah and his fellow prophets tried to speak out against this wickedness, they were all killed except for Elijah.

Now Elijah, who was still being pursued decided that if he was going to be killed that he might as well go out with a bang. So he challenged Jezebel’s priests of Ba’al to a prayer-off. Each side would build a wooden altar to make a sacrifice and then ask their respective deities to light their altars on fire. Winner take all, sudden death. The Israelites are invited to watch this trial by prayer. Elijah lets the priests of Ba’al go first. They pray and wale and cut themselves (as was their custom), but no fire. Elijah even taunts them, asking if their gods are asleep or on vacation. 

When it’s Elijah’s turn, he does something even crazier than putting himself in harms way with all these priests of Ba’al who want him dead. He orders bucket after bucket of water to be poured over his wooden altar until it’s drenched and standing in a puddle. (Elijah know how to put on a show!) The tensions are high, literal life-and-death. But Elijah’s faith in Yahweh is upheld when his altar bursts into flames almost immediately.

The crowd goes nuts!!! 

Seriously, the assembled Israelites go a bit mad and not only recommit themselves to Yahweh and the Covenant . . . (this is where things get a bit gory) . . . they also kill all of Jezebel’s priests of Ba’al. The people take the priests of Ba’al down to the river and slit all their throats. I mean, sure, the priests of Ba’al would’ve done the same to Elijah (had they won) . . . but it’s not even like it’s one or two guys. Not even dozens. There are four hundred and fifty priests of Ba’al.

Long-story-short: Jezebel is SUPER MAD that her servants were killed and so Elijah has to run for his life. If Jezebel wanted him dead before, she wants him SUPER dead now. And after his big burning altar stunt in front of so many people, who are now back to worshiping Yahweh, he can’t really just fade into the back ground and disappear. So he runs.

Elijah runs to the mountain of the Lord, but he gets tired. He’s physically exhausted, mentally he’s at his wit’s end. Even spiritually, he’s drained. He’s just proved to the Israelites that Yahweh is way better than Ba’al or any of those silly pagan gods . . . and it all might just get him killed anyway. So halfway to the mountain, out in the wilderness he collapses and tells God that he’s ready to die. He can’t go on. He’s had it. He’d done. And he falls asleep under a tree.

But that’s when an angel wakes him up and tells Elijah to eat, which he does. The prophet goes back to sleep again. And again, an angel brings him food, wakes him and tells him to eat something to strengthen him for the final bit of the journey. 

And it does. Elijah makes it up the mountain and there’s a fire and an earthquake and a great wind, and then the tiny whispering sound and God. But Elijah never would’ve made it up the mountain to encounter God if he hadn’t had a decent nap (or two) and a bit of food.

Now I’m not saying the cure to mental illness is as simple as “get a good night’s sleep and eat something healthy.” But it helps. Sometimes (and we’ve all been there) when it seems like the whole world is out to get ya and ya just can’t go on . . . it’s the simple things (like rest and food and an encouraging word) that gest us through. 

Even though the help that Elijah is offered comes from an angel, it’s nothing particularly divine or supernatural. And while we can’t sleep for other people, we can certainly provide some food and comfort for people in need. And maybe even help lighten someone’s load, so they can at least rest a bit.

How can you create more space for yourself or others to truly rest?

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