Solemnity of the Holy Prophet Elijah
a Brief History and Meditation
Elijah’s Influence on the Carmelites
On July 20, Carmelites celebrate the feast of the Solemnity of the Holy Prophet Elijah. In the Hebrew Bible, Elijah is a solitary figure. On Mount Carmel — where the Carmelite hermits first settled — he challenged his people to choose one God for Israel — Yahweh or Baal. According to the First Book of Kings, chapter 18, Elijah’s sacrifice was consumed by fire, which proved to the people that Yahweh was the true God.
Undertaking God’s work, Elijah started a journey through the desert, but he lost his focus and commitment to the project. Sitting under a bush, he wished to die. But God prodded him to continue his journey to Mount Horeb. There Elijah became aware of God — not with the usual eye-catching signs of fire and earthquake, but rather as a gentle breeze. Elijah was sent back to his people refreshed. From Elijah, Carmelites learn to become aware of the presence of God in the unexpected and to be silent enough to hear God’s whisper.
“God lives in whose presence I stand”, says Elijah, and the Carmelites try to follow, recognizing God in everyone they meet and serve.
A Meditation on Elijah
The Hebrew Eliyahu (Elijah) means “My God is Yahweh.” During Elijah’s time, the nation of Israel had turned from following Yahweh to Baal, one of the Canaanite gods. Meaning “lord, owner or husband,” the term described a number of gods and many believed Baal brought rain and fertility. Because the Israelites left Egypt with little and weren’t experienced farmers, they were attracted to this idea of Baal.
Then Elijah appeared and claimed Yahweh, who was His God, as the one and only God of Israel, This proclamation was the point of Elijah’s prayer in 1 Kings 18:36-37:
“Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things by your command. Answer me, Lord! Answer me, that this people may know that you, Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to their senses.”
Elijah said there would be no rain until the Israelites decided on one God or the other. Whenever people saw or thought of Eliyahu, they were faced with the message of his name, “My God is Yahweh.” The prophets name itself said something of his faith and declared his mission in life.
We can ask ourselves:
Who is my God? Have we gone on auto-pilot about our religion, going about our day-to-day business without checking in with God? We might try to think of God as a member of our family. Would we be able to get away without talking to our parents or siblings or spouse? Have we checked whether our image of God has changed as we’ve moved through transitions in our life? From childhood to adulthood, marriage, family, births, deaths? How have we invited God along — or been aware of God’s presence in these important times? Who do we think God is now?
Who am I? Elijah’s name was also his mission. Our vocation is not always as clear, but each of us — whatever our state in life — was baptized for God. We have a mission. Where are we on our journey — on the mountaintop or in the desert? Are we the Elijah on fire with purpose or the Elijah despairing of God’s presence? What time do we allow to hear the gentle whisper of God in our lives?