The Wind in My Soul
By parishioner Emilie Øyen; with introduction by the Rev. Craig Townsend
11And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: 12And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. 13And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?
-- I Kings 19 (King James Version; the whole chapter is relevant to this post, and worth reading)
This is one of the most powerful passages in the entire Old Testament. Elijah, chosen prophet of the Lord, the great prophet whose return is awaited every year at the Passover seder with an empty chair in case he shows up, is here depicted as exhausted, frightened, overwhelmed, ready to call it quits. This is both horrifying -- you mean even God's chosen gets overwhelmed?!? -- and reassuring -- so even God's chosen get overwhelmed -- for us readers. Please read the whole chapter to see what parishioner and blogger extraordinaire Emilie Øyen is responding to.
Two things strike me: the translation and the music. The translation of the phrase rendered above in its most famous version, “a still small voice,” is from the King James Version and is kept in the Revised Standard Version of the 1940s; our newest translation, the New Revised Standard Version, refers to it as “a sound of sheer silence,” while the New International Version calls it “a gentle whisper.” I find it quite profound that while God is not in the fire or the wind or the earthquake, God is present in something that we can't actually render into words upon which we can agree. Second, the musical selection Emilie has made and from which she quotes is from an album I played way too many times as a teenager: Cat Steven's “The Teaser and the Firecat.” While I travel down memory lane, I only want to point out what joy it gives me to discover I am not alone in reveling in the use of Biblical quotes and themes by contemporary (or nearly so...) musicians. Enjoy!
-- The Rev. Craig Townsend, Vicar
The Wind in My Soul
A bus roars past, I cringe. The tourists are way too many. People call me, email me. Why does it have to be complicated? I can't seem to close the door. I can't get a seat. I can't get away. I can't get away from myself. When my children feel sad, I feel sad; my children are happy, I am happy! Exhausting. The purifying ocean waves, the perfection of a sand dollar -- who will honor this beauty? Do you even see it, people? There is so much money. There is never enough money. We are all afraid. The endless assault of a jackhammer from the sidewalk below, I want to curl up and cry. The endlessness in general. It's too late. I have failed. I never amounted to anything anyway. My words fall below. All of these idiots in the world, and I am one of them. I have a problem with seeing the point in anything.
I get you, Elijah. I am totally with you. If there were a wilderness around here, I would go out into it. I would lie down under a scrub and ask that I might die. O Lord take away my life! I would say. I would totally do that. And if an angel came with a cake baked on the coals and a cruse of water, I would refuse it. I would lift my hand and say leave me alone, I would want only to lie there. To lie there on the hot sand, the sun burning my face and my arms, not feeling for anything or anyone, not caring for beauty or being afraid or worrying about the future ever again. Ever. Again.
However, I will say that if an angel left a chocolate marshmallow whippet and an iced latte from the café on 68th, I might not refuse it because I've recently discovered that this is the most perfect combination of food on earth. And if the question is: on the strength of that for 40 days? The answer by me is certainly: Yes.
Which I guess brings me to the cave.
About twenty years ago, my sort of/not really/whatever boyfriend asked if I would like to drive from New England through Mexico with him. I had been a waitress for a while -- I was an excellent waitress and not even my degree in Economics could take that away from me -- but otherwise nothing much was holding me down and I had some cash, and so I said sure. He picked me up one July morning in un-air-conditioned car in the midst of the worst heat wave in four centuries and we set off. We hadn't reached the Mass Pike when our first argument happened and by the time we got to Mexico, many southern-gothic days later, we were drained, depleted, mute versions of our former selves.
Finally, somewhere south of Oaxaca, I said: I'm leaving you. He said: Fine. He set off for the coast and I went to Guatemala where, still void of any purpose in life, I studied Spanish for a few weeks. One weekend I decided to go up in the mountains. I took an early morning bus and ascended through the pines and found a pension with cats lounging on mattresses in a hot courtyard and drunks in the next room. I had lunch by myself in the little town with everyone staring at me. That evening I took a walk up a hill outside the village. I reached the top of the hill. In the little valley below I could hear the sound of families before dinner -- a dog barked, a child laughing, the murmur of voices and bouquets of laughter, someone calling someone else into a house, the smell of a fire burning. Humble village windows were lit warmly from within. Across the valley, someone was playing Simon and Garfunkel songs on the marimba.
And I thought to myself, What the hell am I doing here?
How far off must we wander to finally confront ourselves? How much pain must we endure until we finally listen to the still small voice within? How far out must a riptide carry us before we pray earnestly for God's direction? Listen. You don't have to retreat to a cave. You don't have to cross a desert on your hands and knees. Just listen. Elijah, what are you doing here? God asks but while Elijah babbles on, God already knows. Elijah is doing exactly what he should be doing. What the hell am I doing here. You are doing exactly what you should be doing.
Now turn around.
God says to Elijah, Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive... and He lists some pretty specific directions. Pray to God, listen to the small still voice that rises out of the winds, the earthquakes, and the fires. Listen for God's direction. He will guide you, and who knows what angels will show up. Who knows what sustenance they may bring to help you on your journey.
I stood for a moment more on the top of the hill on that Saturday evening in the middle of Guatemala. Then I turned and went down the hill. I packed my bag and returned to Quetzaltenango and got on a bus to Mexico City the next morning, where I caught a train north, walked across the border and bought a Greyhound Bus ticket from Laredo straight to Boston. Within a week I was in my parents' kitchen, calling around for graduate schools for writing.
-- Emilie Øyen