THE DAYS ARE dark in Israel. The Davidic monarchy has long since fallen apart and King Ahab has made an unholy alliance with the neighboring nation of Phoenicia. His worship of foreign gods is problematic, as is his refusal to do what Yahweh plainly tells him to do. The Old Testament litany — “he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” — applies fully to Ahab. Accordingly, the people suffer.
So Elijah, at the bidding of the Lord, gives Ahab a piece of his mind. He tells the monarch to straighten up or God will send a drought on the land. Having delivered his message, Elijah heads for the wilderness, where even a king cannot find him, to wait out the dark, dry days:
The word of the Lord came to Elijah, saying, “Go from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the wadi, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and lived by the Wadi Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the wadi.
1 Kings 17.2-6
Now, a word about Mickey.
Mickey is my friend. He is kind and thoughtful. A week or two before the election we were standing around yakking at the church. He said, “You know, Paul, regardless of how this election goes, we have a lot of work to do here in America. No one is listening to anyone, we seem to have turned against one another, we have lost sight of courtesy and mutual respect. This hostility prevents us from acknowledging even simple facts and basic reason.” He was right, and it’s clear that that things are no better today, post-election.
We as a nation have entered the wilderness. Not a wilderness to which God has sent us for our protection, but a wilderness of incivility and insecurity and insularity. What are we to do with ourselves?
One thing we could do is take note of the wilderness. This time I mean the one that scurries and flits in your backyard, the one that turns silently over your house at night, the one that pushes its way up between the cracks in your driveway, the one that churns in your very body. The one in which you have lived every day of your life, that you are a part of, that sustains you and provides for you and is your very source. That wilderness stands ready to be valued and loved regardless of what happens in Washington. We might as well value and love it; our dependence on it is complete.
As was Elijah’s. He relied on the wilderness to survive a dark and dangerous time. It was God’s good pleasure for things with feathers to attend to the “troubler of Israel” (Ahab’s name for the prophet). Birds brought him what he needed. They pulled him through and gave him his future. They brought strength when Elijah had none.
This is what the towhees and the thrashers and the kinglets do for me. They bring strength. They set my heart at rest. They take me out of self-concern and worry about my country and my life and connect me to my source. They bring me hope. Their serenity makes me less likely to snap at people. Their beauty helps me see the same in those I disagree with. Their simplicity inspires me to purge the non-essentials that clutter my mind and my life. Like ravens, the birds I mention are not flashy. They’re as common as grass. The wilderness is now, and very present.
Maybe birds aren’t your thing. Perhaps you prefer flowers, or the night sky (another of my favorites, right up there with birds), or your pet cat, or the silence and darkness of a morning walk. Maybe you’re a fool for a sunset or horses or seashells or rainbows. Maybe you prefer relativity or genetics or neuroscience or particle physics. These are all faces of the wilderness. They all bring us what we need: serenity, wonder, connection, admiration for the neighborhood.
The wilderness is healing and thoroughly good because God shines through it, all of it. This light can be hard to see but I tell you it’s there. Keep looking — the wilderness never disappoints.