Stone Upon Stone - Jim Holmes

Dear Friends,

         If I remember correctly, I preached a stewardship sermon at Emmanuel three years ago quoting from the hymn, “‘till not a stone was left on stone and all those nations’ pride, o’erthrown, went down to dust beside thee.”  The point was that neither Emmanuel nor any of us would last forever, and that it was important to build a strong Emmanuel in the present.

         The author of the hymn, Walter Russell Bowie, was an Episcopal priest who spent part of World War I in the area where we are staying and I suspect that the image of “not a stone was left on stone” came from the horrors he saw here.  A couple of weeks ago, I described Soissons Cathedral, which has been rebuilt stone upon stone. 

         The small town where we are staying, Dormans, was flattened just as surely as Soissons—but, rather than rebuild to look as it had before, it was built anew.  The stores and houses reflected the needs and styles of the 1920’s where people actually lived and worked and built new lives, even while surrounded by French, British, and German graves and the men who had returned alive but terribly damaged from the fighting.

         As our 2019 annual giving campaign continues, I believe that we are building for the needs of today and for tomorrow.  Of course we need to keep our historic building in good condition, but we are looking how to make it more accessible and inviting to people who want and need it now as well.  In our worship and music, we use words and tunes which pre-date Emmanuel and also words and music which are quite contemporary.  The old and new blend together to stir us to move forward as a community.   Our outreach addresses needs as old as humanity such as homelessness, and as new as the opioid crisis which envelops Baltimore and its sister other cities.  Our educational programs are meant to give us a context for what we do and a basis for moving forward.

         Our stewardship is rooted in who we have been, who we are, and who we are going to become.  Though the expressions are different, the essence is the same.  We are the people of God called to make known God’s love as revealed in Jesus Christ.  We are asked to give so that we might be more effective in sharing the story which shapes us, which gives us life.          

         Your generosity will help Emmanuel to move forward.  A new rector will be in place (Godwilling) in the coming months, and a strong response from you in this stewardship effort will continue to enable Emmanuel to serve today and tomorrow as a vital sign of God’s presence in the troubled times.

                                                                                          —Jim Holmes

Likeness and Image - Jim Holmes

Dear Friends,

         Tomorrow some good friends from the Cotswolds in England are coming to join us for several days in France.  Ahead of the visit, Colin has written, “we promise not to talk about Trump if you promise not to talk about Brexit.”

         Sounds fair enough.  We have endured enough watching CNN’s coverage of Collins’ speech and the vote for Kavanaugh and Trump’s triumphant reveling in the results.  They have heard enough from Teresa May about her wonderful Brexit plan and from everyone else about why it will not work. 

         It makes me think of the power of editorial cartoons.  Though I have not seen one such as this, I picture a young girl picking through the ruins of her tsunami-ruined house in Indonesia saying to a reporter, ”Brett who?”  I picture a young Syrian, dirty and in tattered clothes, looking longingly across the English Channel saying, “What’s a Brexit?”

         Issues literally of life and death—of finding missing family members, of scrounging the next meal, of asking for help which seemingly never comes—push aside the issues which consume so much of our energy.  Brett and Brexit are “first world issues,” and we need to be reminded that for so many who are refugees, who face famine, who are struggling with the results of drought or flooding, they mean little.  We need to be reminded that our “God of the margins” is with those who suffer; we need to help them and ourselves, in the words of this Sunday’s communion anthem, to ”believe in God even when He is silent.”

         I think the issues raised by the Kavanaugh confirmation are important.  The treatment of women, the silencing of women, are Gospel issues as we seek to respect the dignity of every human being.  I think Brexit is a blow to a noble experiment in building a united community across lines of language, religion, culture, and national identity.

         I stood yesterday in the cathedral in Soissons, a small city in northern France.  One hundred years ago, the cathedral was an utter ruin from the bombs which had been rained upon it.  It is a strong testament to the human spirit, to human ingenuity, and the power of working together that the church once again stands as a witness to the love of God in a troubled world.  It reminded me that, by the grace of God, we human beings can rebuild cities obliterated by storms and bombs, can feed people, can reunite families.  And yes, we can work for a country and a world in which women are given the respect that is theirs by virtue of being created in God’s image.

—Jim Holmes

Do You See What I See? - Jim Holmes

Dear Friends,

The Adoration of the Magi is a familiar theme in Western art.  Any number of painters have depicted the scene of Mary holding the baby Jesus, Joseph at her side, and the three wise men kneeling before her adoring the child and presenting their gifts.  Though the settings vary—from stables with only the animals in attendance to medieval cities with throngs of people watching—the scene is usually a pastoral, loving one.

In the archbishop’s palace next door to Reims Cathedral, there is a medieval tapestry depicting the event with Mary, child, and the three kneeling men.  But Joseph is off at a table in the back of the room opening the gifts.  Is he there to claim the gifts for himself and abandon his child-bride and her illegitimate child?  Perhaps, but that is too cynical.  Or is he there with a sense of relief that now he, Mary, and the child will have enough money to make the arduous journey to Egypt, which he knows is coming very soon?  I much prefer this, but I am sure there are other possibilities as well.

 Who knows what the artist had in mind?  As with all great art, much is in the eye of the beholder, and we see different things at different times, perhaps depending on our moods, perhaps on what is going on in the world around us.

I don’t think it too much of a stretch to find this subjectivity as we look at Emmanuel.  Do the more cynical among us see a diminished parish, one which has had three rectors in a relatively short period, one which is much less filled with worshippers than in the heyday of the ’50s with Dr. Starrat’s stirring preaching?  Do we see a parish turned in upon itself, fraying at the edges?  It is not difficult to find those who see Emmanuel from this perspective.

But I, an admiring and at times adoring outsider, see it differently.  Yes, there have been three rectors in a short period, but their stories are all different and they left for reasons which do not indict Emmanuel.  Are we as full as we were in the ’50’s?  Not by a long shot, but then neither are most mainline congregations.  After a dip in the early part of this year, our attendance is slowly increasing; people are engaging the life of the parish; there is a sense of unity if not uniformity; and we are moving ahead, hopeful abut the future.

 As The Book of Common Prayer says, “open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us.” (372)  I hope that more of us will open our eyes and hearts to see God at work as we move ahead at Emmanuel, trusting in the Spirit of the Lord to lead us into the days ahead. 

-Jim Holmes

"The larks, still bravely singing" - Jim Holmes

Dear Friends,

In Flanders fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

So begins a poem written by Canadian physician John McCrae, who was a soldier in Belgium during the Great War.  It was written after McCrae presided over the funeral of a close friend killed in the Battle of Ypres.

Tim and I began our trip to France with a purposeful detour to Belgium to visit the American Cemetery called Flanders Field.  It is the only American World War I cemetery in Belgium, and it is relatively small with only four hundred or so graves.  Like other American cemeteries in Europe, it is virtually pristine and quite moving.  We will be seeing other such sites in France when we move to a town on the Marne River near a number of cemeteries and battlefields. 

 Is striking to see the tombstones of a number killed so close to the end of the hostilities on November 11, 1918, and worst of all to discover the markers of those struck down on the actual day.  Had peace come five minutes earlier, would Col. Lieberman have lived and enjoyed his Belgian Croix de Guerre at home in New York? The armistice came too late for all of these young men and women.  Also jarring is to see the fairly large number of crosses and stars of David reading “here rests in honored glory AN AMERICAN SOLDIER known but to God.”

 The question always comes up in a World War I cemetery:  Why?  To what purpose did the deaths of some 116,000 American soldiers contribute, to what end did the deaths of nearly 20,000,000 people serve?  One can think of the American Civil War as having a purpose, and so also with World War II.  But World War I seems so pointless, a squabble among emperors who were also cousins—a quest for hegemony, but having no valid reason that I can think of.

 On November 11, the 100th anniversary of the Armistice which ended the fighting in the Great War, we at Emmanuel will mark the occasion with a service from the 1892 Book of Common Prayer and a reminder for people to take a moment to pray in our Peace Chapel dedicated to those who died in World War I. (We will also encourage people to look at the large plaque in the narthex naming the men—and one woman—of the parish who fought in that war.)

 And we will try to wrestle with why in 2018 “the larks, still bravely singing, fly scarce heard amid the guns below”?

 —Jim Holmes

 

Crossing Over - Joseph Wood

Today is Holy Cross Day--or, more fully, The Exaltation of the Holy Cross--one of the major feasts of the church year. Historically, it’s associated with the September 14, 335 dedication of a complex of buildings established by Emperor Constantine on the supposed site of Jesus’ crucifixion and tomb. This first Church of the Holy Sepulcher included a large basilica and a circular church, and its initial construction was overseen by Helena, Constantine’s mother. During the excavations, a relic was discovered that was believed to be the true cross. In the late fourth-century, the pilgrim Egeria described such a cross in her detailed account of her journey to the Holy Land and experiences of the religious rituals taking place in and around Jerusalem at the time. (In fact, she mentions that there was by then a deacon guarding the cross when it was on display for veneration, because an enterprising visitor had stolen a bite of the cross when they went down to kiss it.) The feast has also been associated with the exposition of that or a similar cross in Jerusalem in the seventh century following its return by Emperor Heraclius, who recovered the artifact from the Persians after the first Church of the Holy Sepulcher was destroyed and the cross taken in 614. Although the authenticity of the relics is much disputed in modern times, Holy Cross Day still marks a moment for us to remember that “our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself,” just as we “who glory in the mystery of our redemption” are called to “to take up our cross and follow him.” (BCP 244)

The only problem is that, even as the feast itself is quite ancient, the Book of Common Prayer 1979 is the first one to include its commemoration. Why this seeming laxity on the part of our Anglican forbearers? What does our traditional avoidance of this holiday signify? I think it’s because the cross makes us uncomfortable, unsettles our ideas of what it means to be a Christian in this day and age--let alone a Protestant. How are we supposed to claim to be children of the Enlightenment when our worship is centered around an instrument of torture and execution on the part of empire, on the part of Rome? How can we in good conscience talk about taking up our crosses when history is littered with examples of the Church perpetuating similar suffering in the name of our collective salvation?

I don’t have any simple answers to those questions, because they’re ones that have troubled me for years. Coming out of my Roman Catholic days, I too was leery of allowing such cruciform-ity to shape my faith. I prayed that there was a different way to celebrate the wonderful work of our Lord in the world, remaking us into something glorious and new. I prayed for a redemption that didn’t include oppression, didn’t include the death of an innocent victim. Yet, as you’ve heard me preach before, we cannot talk about the brilliance of Easter without the darkness of Good Friday, and we cannot remove the cross from the heart of our faith. The downfall is when we let it become the last word, the static symbol of Christianity disconnected from all that came before and after. The cross isn’t about the demands of a bloodthirsty God, but the Divine reflecting back to us how easily we give into our basest instincts and our worst fears. The cross is the symbol par excellence of our own sinfulness, and turning our gaze only seems to avoid its inevitable truth. We are called to take up our crosses not suffer, though suffering will inevitably be a part of the work. We are called to take up our crosses and follow Christ into a new way of being, choosing life when so much of our culture says death. (As the founder of Latin American liberation theology, Gustavo Gutiérrez, described: “...It is those who refuse to see that the salvation of Christ is a radical liberation from all misery, all despoliation, all alienation.”) It is only when the latter falls silent that the world will well and wholly be redeemed, and we will find that we have all drawn near to our Savior at last. However you do or don’t celebrate Holy Cross Day, remember that there’s more to the story. Remember that we are called to follow Jesus towards a day with no more crosses.

Come On Back - Jim Holmes

Dear Friends,

You may remember the catch phrase “Come on down” from the television show The Price is Right. Bob Barker would call out a name and invite the person to come to the stage to guess the price of some item--it was kind of silly fun.

Summer has come to its accepted, if not official, end on Labor Day, and now I want to invite folks to “Come on back.” There is always a summer lull in churches when people are away or engaged in summer activities while children are out of school. Or others just take the summer off, sleeping in, reading the newspaper, spending time with friends, walking the dog, whatever.  

I don’t need to tell you it has been a time of turmoil and transition for Emmanuel. Perhaps some of you are not here because you could not bear the tension or you just wanted church to be a safe place. Some of you are angry or confused by what was going on. Those are quite real reactions to life here. In the past several weeks, we have been trying to address the issues facing us as we move ahead with the choice of a new priest to lead us. Responses to the survey which was sent to all parishioners are now being compiled, and we will discuss them at the forum on Sunday. Thanks to all who were a part of that effort or have otherwise shared your voice in the conversation.

But I want you to know that things are happening at Emmanuel. The parish responded generously to the annual Backpack Project, and a wonderful mix of folks prepared the backpacks and other school supplies for children across Baltimore headed back to school. Our organ scholar, Jordan Prescott, is back, regularly filling the building with music as he practices; the staff is engaged in preparing for Sunday and for the coming weeks and months. Folks have been here measuring and surveying the building with so that we can move ahead with the Accessibility Project and our commitment to making the buildings more welcoming to all. A plasterer is making much needed repairs in the Gallery and in the Peace Chapel. Without wearing blinders or being naive, we are looking ahead.  

The Wednesday noonday Eucharist resumes on September 12, and there are plans in the works to have an adult education component sometime in the fall.  As I mentioned, the Forum resumes this Sunday with a session lead by our Senior Warden on what we are hearing from you and our shared hope for Emmanuel. Our splendid choir also returns on Sunday, enriching and enhancing our worship. We are putting in place our Stewardship efforts for the coming year.

On a personal note, I will be here through Sunday, September 16th, and then Tim and I are off for a long-planned trip to France. I return on October 21st and will be here as your Interim Rector until the search process is completed.

If you have been dis-engaged, please re-engage. If you have been here all along, thank you.  All of you, come on back as we look forward to a new season in the life of this wonderful parish.

— Jim Holmes

Solace & Strength - Timothy A. Sabin

"Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal."

The question remains after 60 years: who made the better peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwiches? I say it was Mrs Farrington, who was very generous with the marshmallow and let us enjoy that airy nothingness called Wonder Bread. On the other hand, Mrs Jordan was sparing of the fluff, heavy on the protein-laden peanut butter, and always spread the filling on the health food of 1958, Roman Meal whole-wheat bread. The sandwiches were served in abundance at all Sunday School functions of the Cape Elizabeth United Methodist Church. I have in mind today particular memories of this richness when we kids sat outside in the Sukkot Booth; ate too many sandwiches; swilled far too much Orange Crush soda; and listened to the Rev'd Mr. Staples tell us about our Jewish heritage. Yes, I speak of the Jewish heritage that we little Methodists shared with the Lord Jesus. Jesus was our friend and companion, and he wanted us not just to love his people but to tell their great stories.

No Christmas passed without our hearing of Hanukkah; for Easter we marched through the Red Sea waters with our hero Moses. And no hint of autumn blessed the Maine summer air, nor did  golden leaves fall among the slate-marked graves of mouldering Yankees outside the white clapboard church, none of this lightly touched the summer-tired senses of Sunday School ladies and their charges without our happy pilgrim adventure, the Feast of Tabernacles.

That feast, commonly known as “Sukkot”, or “Tents”, is one of the three primordial and primary events of Jewish life, along with Passover and Pentecost. The authority for the Feast is found in Exodus and in Leviticus. The former: “…[t]hou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the first-fruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.” The latter more spiritual: “Ye shall dwell in booths seven days…that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt…”

So the Farrington, Jordan, and Olson men built a frame against the church while the rest of us waited with boughs of scent-rich white pine to adorn the finest booth in all of New England--well, if not the finest, perhaps the only one at a Methodist Church.

We loved the great Jewish stories our fathers told and our mothers sang. We cherished the human and humane Methodism taught by Mr. Staples that was set to universal harmony by “This is my Father’s World”, and the first lessons in Judaism which left us singing early praises to the Lord, the kindly Lover of Israel. I grew from those days of late childhood and early adolescence to be a Methodist and a Jew--as I must tell you, I still am.

It is a pretty picture. Yet now how easy to be tired and worn out and fed up. When illness or accident strikes what was a secure and comfortable home, when BBC America reports horrors in the next street and throughout the globe, it is little wonder that we feel God has thrown our booth of pine into the dustbin. Our Father’s world is replete, even more than with natural disasters, with man-made tragedies. Faith, hope, charity dissolve into a mire of doubt, fear, and resentment. The journey often seems too hard to bear.

But just then we are obliged by our Christian commitment to say we need help. To ask for solace and strength. For just a moment of simple comfort. For one of Mrs Farrington’s gooey sandwiches. There’s no fault in ducking under the pine boughs for quiet time in the booth.

Yet we sit in the booth next to the Lord Jesus, who lived through such as we live through now; died to it; and rose above it. Hearing such solace, we want to build him an even greater booth, which will be a mansion right here where we can stay with Him forever. He tells us, however, to grasp an urgent truth: His coming then and still today has as its purpose to endow us with the strength to leave the booth and be about our business. The sweet-scented tabernacle must be torn down.

Yes, we need and must have refreshment, solace, rest. We may relax in the booths of the Hebrew fathers and mothers and the rabbi Jesus. But refreshed for the journey, and confident that the Table is ready for us, we must leave and serve the world in Jesus’ name.

And with Thy Spirit – Joseph Wood

  Let me start by admitting that the topic of this meditation is brought to you by happenstance, by a happy accident that occurred during lunch after we had finished prepping the school supplies for the Backpack Project. (A huge thank you again to all of the people who donated, shopped, sorted, or otherwise showed up for this moment in our parish’s ministry.) The topic of most recent English translation of the Roman Catholic Mass came up, which was the first one to be approved since Vatican II in the 1960s. A move away from what some Catholic authorities worried was the too conversational style of the earlier translations, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops unveiled the new one in 2008, and it’s supposedly a return to a more elevated tone proper to reverence. Among the changes was one that some Emmanuelites may recognize. Where the earlier version had the congregation responding to the celebrant’s “the Lord be with you” with “and also with you,” now the people are encouraged to answer back “and with your spirit.” Incidentally, the movement from “with you” to “with your spirit” is an almost exact reversal of the change that took place in Episcopal liturgies based upon the influence of the Liturgical Movement. In Rite I of our Book of Common Prayer, you can still find the rubrics prompting a (presumably reverential) “and with thy spirit” before the Collect of the Day and at the opening of the Eucharistic Prayer (BCP 325, 333). Meanwhile, the Rite II language that we regularly use here at Emmanuel follows the same pattern as the Vatican II translation, the congregation replying to the clerical salutation with “and also with you” (BCP 357, 361). The question is: why is there such debate over a seemingly simple phrase?

  At lunch, I didn’t have much of an answer to the other’s puzzlement, because I wasn’t sure myself what was at stake—beyond the usual anxiety over any ritual changes. All I could tell them is that “with your[/thy] spirit” is a closer translation of the Latin of the Roman Rite: et cum spiritu tuo. After a little more sleuthing, I can tell you that the two phrases seem to be reformulations of the end of greetings in several of the Pauline letters (emphasis mine):

·      “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.” (Galatians 6:18)
·      “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” (Philippians 4:23)
·      “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” (Philemon 25)
·      “The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.” (2 Timothy 4:22)

Given the consistency of the examples, it may be the case that St. Paul was drawing upon an earlier tradition, but I wasn’t able to find any sources that spoken directly to such a precursor. It’s worth noting, though, that 2 Timothy is one of the letters that is now known as “of the Pauline School” or “Deutero-Pauline,” because there is a fair amount of scholarly consensus that they were not actually written by Paul—so at least some of the difference in our phrase can be chalked up to diverse authorship. In either case, the concern of translating shifts from Latin to New Testament Greek and the context and intentions behind those scriptural words.

  When we say spirit, are we talking about the individual spirit of the celebrant? Or the spirit of the community? And, in either case, is that spirit the Holy Spirit? Pages upon pages have been written throughout Christian history trying to come to some kind of definitive conclusion, and I won’t go into even a fraction of those arguments here. I will note that there is a real beauty to the possibility that the spirit mentioned in the response is the Holy Spirit, especially when paired with the opening of “the Lord be with you.” Then we have at least two members of the Trinity evoked in mere moments, inviting the people and the celebrant to share together in a Triune pattern as we worship. Even so, there is something striking about the idea of the people echoing that the Lord be “also with” their clergyperson, reminding us that even our most formulaic (and all too often clericalist) liturgy should be understood as a mutual act. Thus, I’m not going to try to tell you that either translation is a better one. Perhaps you find the conversational tone of the one or the elevation of the other more prayerful. Perhaps you even find the idea of a difference between the two a kind of holy nitpicking. Whatever the case, it’s extraordinary to think about how each line, each word of our prayers contains such an inheritance. Phrases that have become almost second nature to us bear the imprint of an untold number of hands and were born from an untold number of lips. So, the next time you find yourself immersed in our ritual language, notice what especially resonates with you—God only knows the overabundance of meaning behind that moment. It’s another way to enter into communion.

Eclectic, Enlightening, Engaging - Jim Holmes

Dear Friends,

On most mornings--except in the cold of winter--Tim and I have early morning coffee in our small screened porch, which opens to a stand of woods in the back where we regularly see deer, some times foxes, and often our neighbors walking themselves and their dogs.

I drink my coffee from a cup which reads ”Eclectic, Enlightening, Engaging, Emmanuel.”  It's a wonderful motto or slogan dating, I think, from the early days of Rodney Hudgen’s time as Rector.  It's meant to identify the present Emmanuel and an ongoing commitment to the days ahead.

Does it still reflect who we are?  I like to think so, though perhaps not in the same ways as six or seven years ago.  With me as your Interim Rector, the Sunday services are probably closer to The Book of Common Prayer than they might have been before, but we still regularly use materials from other Anglican provinces and our denominational partners.  Though our choir has not yet started its season, I trust that it will continue its tradition of offering superb music from eclectic sources.  Having Sugar (Rob and Lucy's white dog) in the front row most Sundays also says something fun about who we are.

I hope you find the sermons enlightening at least most of the time.  We anticipate a new season of the Adult Forum and trust it will bring intellectual and spiritual stimulation.  The several parish meetings we have had in the past month have been enlightening as we have heard a variety of voices offering differing perspectives and experiences about who we are and where we want to go.  The commitment to Emmanuel is remarkable as people engage in growing not only in numbers but in our spiritual lives and in our connection with the world.

The vestry and the parish’s commitment to the renovation of this building to make it more accessible for us and for all who come here is a sign that we intend to engage ever more broadly and deeply with the community around us.

Can we do ever much more?  Absolutely.  Might we do some things differently, even in this time of transition?  Certainly.   Let us continue to show our care for one another.  Let us listen acutely to our own voices and the voices of those who look to us to model the love of God.  Let us be open to the notion that “new occasions teach new duties.”  If we do this, I believe that those coming to us--be they visitors, prospective members, or a new rector--will find Emmanuel Eclectic, Enlightening, Engaging. Lift high the coffee cups.

Jim Holmes

Slouching Towards Horeb* - Joseph Wood

  Last Friday, I traveled back to Annapolis to visit some old friends from college, both to catch up and to prepare for their wedding as it edges ever closer. Since I made the journey via public transit, it turned into a kind of pilgrimage for me. Not only does the route leave plenty of time for contemplation—it takes roughly two hours—it’s also a journey that I had to make frequently during the year after I graduated from St. John’s College. During that time, I was living in Baltimore** and working for the Episcopal Service Corps, but I was still making almost weekly treks back to Annapolis to take part in the communal life at St. Anne’s Parish as I tried to convince them that it would be a good idea to support my seminary aspirations. It’s a rather odd experience, continually returning to your college town during the year when you’ve supposedly, finally become an adult. Catching glimpses of so many familiar sights as the bus trundled along gave me pause, musing about the difference between who I was then and where I find myself these days. (Admittedly, the proximity to my 30th birthday probably didn’t help the instinctive turn towards self-examination.) What does it mean to grow up? And what does it mean to become who we’re meant to be?

  In this week’s Hebrew Bible reading (1 Kings 19:4-9), we get a brief, bleak glimpse into Elijah’s literal and figurative journey as he tries his best to live into his own vocation as a prophet of the Lord. Having just taken the drastic measure of executing all of the prophets of Baal as he tries to stem the tide of idolatry in the kingdom of Judah, Elijah is fleeing for his life before the wrath of King Ahab and his infamous wife Jezebel. Having failed to move the royal hearts to anything but wrath, the prophet despairs. He cries “enough” and begs God to “take his life, for [he is] no better than [his] fathers” (19:4). After this lament, he collapses into an exhausted sleep beneath a broom tree. (If there’s any image that can illustrate the dichotomy between the supposed loftiness of being the Divine spokesperson and the reality, it’s Elijah needing to seek shelter underneath a literal bush after his desperate escape into the wilderness.) However, the Lord does not take his chosen prophet’s life—to the contrary, God tends to Elijah with almost gentle concern. In a sequence that echoes the calling of Samuel (1 Samuel 3), the prophet is awoken twice by an angel with instructions to “arise and eat” (1 Kings 19:5,7). Thus, even in the midst of his despair, even in the midst of the bareness of the wilderness, God provides. Elijah is fed with “a caked baked on hot stones”*** and his thirst is slaked with “a jar of water” (19:5). The prophet’s emotional and physical needs are met, and he continues on in his journey for “forty days and forty nights,” which echoes, among a number of different Biblical precedents, the mountaintop experience of Moses and Noah’s sojourn in the Ark. His literal and figurative journey comes to an end at “Horeb the mount of God” (19:8). And it should be noted that “Horeb” means dry place, though it’s often used interchangeably with Mount Sinai. So, even in fulfillment, God’s prophet finds himself in a place that is paradoxically both dry and the heart of his faith.

  I offer you that summary not to suggest that my trip or my thoughts were anything like Elijah’s, but rather to illustrate just how much growing up and becoming who we’re meant to be can mean letting go of the familiar and its expectations. In despair, Elijah meets the Lord. In the wilderness, Elijah is fed. I’m not sure that my freshly-minted college graduate self could ever have imagined what my life looks like now, and I’m positive that the teenager who enrolled at St. John’s couldn’t possibly have. It’s a strange blessing to know that my life has exceeded my younger vision. I pray that it continues to do so—though, Godwilling, without ever coming too close to the prophetic experience. That’s also my prayer for Emmanuel more broadly. May our communal journey exceed our abilities to hope, like water and bread underneath a broom tree. May we recognize God as our constant companion, even in the driest of places. May we one day find that, without ever quite noticing that it’s happening, we’ve become more than we ever meant to be.

 

*While Joan Didion’s collection of essays, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, might more quickly come to mind these days, I'm more inclined towards Yates’ “The Second Coming."

**Well, Pikesville

***The Ancient Near East equivalent of pita