February 19, 2021



Image by Simon Swales

Week 1: The Wilderness

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in God my heart trusts.
(Psalm 28:7)

Then [Elijah] was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there. He himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.’ He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food for forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.
(1 Kings 19:3-9)


On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.
(Psalm 138:3)

And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.
(Genesis 21:14b)

Dear God....At times I have felt a great intimacy with You.
It is clear, warm and all encompassing. But this sensation dissipates
like a dream that fades the longer I am awake. I try to recapture
that feeling but only a memory remains and it grows dim. I am
seeking renewal. Fill my soul with the breath of Your magnificence.
Surround me with Your goodness and love. Rejuvenate me so that
I may have the strength to reach out to others and revitalize them.
This is my prayer now and forevermore.
- from "Dear God" by Randee Rosenberg Friedman
found in The Flowering of the Soul: A Book of Prayers by Women, edited by Lucinda Vardey

God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
(Psalm 73:26)

"Angel Appearing to Elijah" by Ferdinand Bol (1642)

In the biblical narrative, the stories of the outcasts who land in the wilderness are retold in different ways but with similar elements. Elijah has come to Beersheba, where Hagar was also. The story of Elijah is a kind of retelling of the Hagar story: both Hagar and Elijah go twice to the wilderness (see 1 Kings 17) and both are provided for by God in their sojourns there. The continuation of angels who act as protectors and comforters is present in today’s reading, and so is the presence of the shading tree, in this case named as a broom tree. (The Hebrew root word of “bush” in the Hagar text is also the root for “broom”.) These desert shrubs were the only place of sparse respite from the heat and they were not big enough to offer much of it at that. At midday their shade would perhaps shelter baby Ishmael but not much more. At the end of the day, they could cast a longer shadow that might provide a space for Elijah. Where Hagar lays her baby in the shade of the broom tree, unable to watch him die, Elijah lies down in a similar place having given up on life. This great prophet, who stood up to kings and queens and who raised a widow’s son from the dead, is in this moment an ordinary soul whose capacity and strength have begun to fail him. Banished by Jezebel, Elijah believes his time is done. The roots of the broom tree were the source of a natural charcoal that was used to make fires in the desert. Ironically, the last act of Elijah before coming into the wilderness was to demonstrate God’s power by summoning fire. But Elijah has no time or energy to build a fire in the desert, or to summon one from God. He casts himself under the broom tree, in the same way that Hagar placed Ishmael, believing that death lies ahead. The broom tree of life and death is therefore a significant player in both stories. Today’s text tells us that Elijah is ‘touched’ by an angel. The word ‘touch’ is a powerful one for us right now in our own lives, as we draw near to the anniversary of a life lived in various versions of lockdown. Some of us have not experienced a human hug in that much time, while others who are ill have been separated from those they love who would otherwise be offering them comfort in their most vulnerable hours. Front line nurses and doctors have had to become those ‘angels’ of touch, squeezing hands in comfort and prayer. What awaits Elijah once he has been roused by the angel is not a pep talk or news from God. What is waiting for him is food. A cake baked on hot stones is offered to strengthen him. (In his earlier time in the Cherith Valley, Elijah is fed by ravens.) Like Hagar, he is provided with water, presumably from the same source. He is encouraged to eat, so that he will be fortified for his journey. Elijah does not ask “what journey?, where am I going?” nor does the angel give him direction. But eventually Elijah does get up and walk. Though his walking takes him to Mount Horeb where he will once again confront a corrupt king, in the desert of Beersheba, he is just an overwhelmed human being who is fed and nourished with the love of God. Who do you know who needs this kind of simple presence today? Who can you feed today with something to eat or encouraging words?

Image by Simon Swales

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Thank you and peace be with you!