It’s a new day.
In a way, for me, it’s a new year.
There are more reasons than the obvious for the newness of this year, with this big anniversary behind me. I can’t explain it all here. But there is a song, a song my mother loved, called Whispering Hope. Maybe you’ve heard it, especially if you had parents or grandparents who sang or listened to the radio much. It says, “Wait till the darkness is over.”
Cancer and old age and miscarriages weren’t the only darknesses of the last years of life. They were significant, but they weren’t all. And though the darkness was pressing in full-force a year ago, I woke this morning with a hope that maybe the passing of a year is like taking that first step into a new world. A new life. A life that begins with the simple victory of having lived through the last epoch, endured the horror, and had a time of rest. Sabbatical.
In 1 Kings 18, God’s prophet (one who heard the voice of God directly) Elijah is called to stand before all the “prophets” of Baal. Baal. The anti-God. The Lord of the Flies. The Lord of the “Dung” (to put it politely) Heap. Decay. Manure. Offal. Every bit of sin in this world could fall into the category that we politely here call “dung,”—the stuff God would smear on the faces of the men of Malachi instead of letting his own face shine upon them, or his image be displayed through them—though I admit in this case, because of the reality of its offensiveness, I prefer the term used freely by fellow brother in Christ and musical legend Bono. All that is evil belongs to Baal. All that is dirty and hurtful and foul.
And here’s Elijah. One guy. Standing up for God in front of 450—a veritable army!—of those who promote the shit in this world. Just a chapter earlier, Elijah had told the widow he was living with, “Do not fear.” Easy to say when all you’re worried about is a little bread. But what about this setting: One against an army of evil? The king and his sinister bride despise Elijah. The nation’s power is focused on him as the “troubler of Israel.” Jezebel has a vendetta out for him, swearing she’ll find a way to take him down. Who are his friends? Who supports him in this battle? I imagine the air might have even felt electrified with the magnification of that many evil-seekers in one place. I imagine Satan thought the hour was his. There is strength in numbers. Elijah’s got to crack, and then the gap is breached.
The years of Baal-infiltration into the community of God’s people was coming to a head. Decisions had to be made. Evil brought to the light. The fight was at a climax.
But Elijah stands firm, alone: “If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him.” And the gauntlet is thrown.
God proves himself that day, before the false prophets that have worked their deception throughout the people like leaven, before the people, before Elijah. The people’s eyes are opened, and with a word from Elijah, the 450 prophets—the officers in the army of hell on earth—are seized and destroyed. Slaughtered by the brook.
Now if I were Elijah at this point, I think it would be time for a margarita under the terebinth tree, don’t you? The evil has been faced. The one man stood before it all, proclaiming God. God won the day. It’s over. Let him exhale. And he does.
What Elijah does is like the last year of my life. A year ago, the evil ended. But it had been a long, hard trial to endure. I was still breathing at the end, but barely, and then, only with conscious effort.
Elijah sat down. He sat down under the shade of a tree in the wilderness. He was so weary and overwhelmed—not energized by the victory, but overwhelmed by the effort it took to get there—he is now ready to be done. “It is enough,” he says, and he lay down and slept. How long did he sleep that first time? It doesn’t say, but at points, angels came, woke him, ministered to him, left him again to rest. They, God’s messengers, acknowledge, “The journey is too great for you.” Eat. Rest. Be refreshed. He knows our frame. Overall, 40 days and 40 nights—“a time” of biblical significance. But even then, he doesn’t exactly rise refreshed and ready to go back to service. Not yet.
Instead, he lodges in a cave and it’s quiet there. And even when the wind and the earthquake and the fire rage outside, he’s sheltered within. For “the voice of the Lord was not in the wind, or the earthquake, or the fire.”
I’ve been there. Earthquakes: Loud, demanding voices telling me what I *must* do, what *they* would do. Whirlwinds, stirring the emotions: Some speaking out of true concern on some level, but on other levels, just wanting their own comfort zones to be met. Fire: Still others judging me for their own assumptions, filling in gaps with commands that didn’t even fit the story. Words without knowledge. But the voice of the Lord was not there.
What I needed was to rest, to be sheltered. One dear friend put it right, “What she needs is ICU.”
Back to Elijah: After the wind and the earthquake and the fire, there came the sound of a low whisper. Whispering hope. Wait till the darkness is over. Wait till the tempest is done. Hope for the sunshine tomorrow, after the darkness is gone. Whispering hope.
The voice of God was in the whisper. The whisper that came after the victory, after the rest, after the turmoil and chaos outside.
The still, small voice that broke my hardened heart 22 years ago this morning is saying that maybe now is the time to rise and go. There is still work to be done.