The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 1 Kings 19:11-13
For The Wildlife Trust’s ‘30 Days Wild’ challenge, I tried intentionally each day in June to be more observant and wild, even if it was just appreciating the clouds and their shifting formations or marvelling at how resilient plants push through cracks in the concrete (one impressive plant sprouting from halfway up a brick wall definitely deserves a mention).
It was July 3rd (so technically Day 33 Wild or 3 days post the official challenge). At this point I was still in the rhythm of absorbing more of my surroundings and appreciating things in nature that I probably wouldn’t have before the challenge and even before lockdown. I guess it took some days after the challenge to revert back to my normal (dulled down) senses but as I met two friends in the big field next to our local canal, my ‘Random Acts of Wildness’ radar was fully activated and looking for signals. We all stopped to admire a Red Admiral and then another one. I was delighted and also .. slightly miffed in the sense of, ‘typical – I’ve been looking out for butterflies for the whole of June with no luck and now it’s July… butterfly, what are you doing here?’
Then I remembered 1 Kings 19:11-13… After the wind, earthquake and fire there was God‘s gentle whisper. Reading round these verses, Elijah had just spent 40 days in the wilderness – proper rugged wilderness mind – nothing like my attempt at being wild in urban west London. Although… Whenever my daughter had asked me, pre-lockdown, to have a ‘Do Nothing’ day, I would recoil inwardly at the idea of staying at home all day and always come up with an excuse to be out and about.
ALL DAY at home. What on earth would we do at home allday? BC (Before Corona), weekends were jam-packed full. I would even microwave our lunch in my church’s kitchen so that we didn’t have to go home and get ‘stuck’ inside. Home before this lockdown you see had personally been a bit of a wilderness for me to be – even somewhere to avoid. Because sometimes cultivating and nurturing things and relationships at home (metaphorically speaking) can be a painful, even frightening place.
This stay-at-home period has been a testing time for everyone in so many different ways. I have friends that have had to move house mid-way through, friends job hunting with no success, friends in limbo on furlough being pushed back further and further.. the list could go on.
Never before have we all been collectively forced to retreat to and remain for so long in our caves (homes) with no exact date of when (and if) we will go back to ‘normal’ or forwards to a new normality. At points during this lockdown I’ve felt completely out of my depth. And yet… the very place that felt like a wilderness at the start of lockdown for me is now feeling like home. Maybe you feel the same, maybe the exact opposite. To take a phrase picked up during lock down and to make it one that even the Prophet Elijah might understand too: ‘We’re in the same earthquake, wind and fire, but not in the same cave.’
Elijah’s story continues. He stands at the mouth of the cave he has been sleeping in and God asks him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Surely God already knows the answer. “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty,” Elijah replies. God was preparing Elijah in his cave-dwelling days. It’s from the time spent in his wild man-cave that Elijah receives his calling: “Go back the way you came to anoint Hazael king over Aram, Jehu king over Israel, and Elisha to succeed you as prophet” (1 Kings 19:11-13).
“And you, what are you doing here?”
As followers of Christ, God’s chosen people emerging from our comfortable 21st century caves, we might also want to prayerfully consider this question individually and as the Church – indeed what are we all doing here? In our personal lives and at this point of time in history too.
May we wholeheartedly and enthusiastically be able to answer the same as Elijah – or pray for the desire to be – zealous for God! Devoted, willing and ready for our post-cave calling in our shared communal home. Whether you are called to ‘go back the way you came’ or onto somewhere and something new (planned or otherwise), may you heed his gentle whisper and the perfectly-timed butterflies as you go.
This reflection was written by Jennifer Plummer for the Wild Christian email, ‘Nature and the Season of Creation.’ Jen is our A Rocha UK’s Communications Officer and Wild Christian Programme Coordinator.