COVID-19 - A call to prayer? - 1 Kings 19, 1-18
by Fiona P
Some people are lucky enough to have found the Covid lockdowns a time of relief from some of the busyness and stress of life. But for many others, the Covid pandemic has been a difficult time: much busier than usual, frightening, isolating and for many the grief of bereavement.
I am reminded of Elijah’s despair, hiding out in the desert from Jezebel who is trying to kill him. Exhausted and traumatised he wishes he was dead and his prayer is “Yahweh, I have had enough. Take my life.”
Somehow, Elijah found a way to let God reach him at this time, to allow God to use suffering to make him a stronger, wiser person. We might use other words; holier? More peaceful? More resilient? Happier?. Romans (5:3-5) tells us that suffering, though thoroughly unpleasant, can be an opportunity for us to change for the better. How did Elijah tap into this grace in his time of isolation?
The Bible talks about Elijah’s physical needs of food and rest being met before he sets out on a 40 day journey by foot. We rejoin him staying overnight in a cave. He is still overwhelmed. He can’t figure out the next steps to take. The facts of his situation have not changed… but his state of mind has changed immensely: ‘I am full of zeal for God.’
And then the classic passage of recognising God in the light murmuring sound, discerning His voice in the midst of what the Bible describes as hurricane, earthquake and fire. Discerning the quiet and gentle voice of God. And now Elijah sees a way forward.
What has happened? So very much has been said about this passage but I believe it is useful to us in our own spiritual journeys during Covid. But just how can we learn to pray and grow as Elijah did?
Bishop Greg Homeming speaks about how the hurricane, earthquake and fire were not literally hurricane, earthquake and fire. Instead, the bible uses them to describe the events of Elijah’s life and his thoughts, feelings and emotions. In other words, his daily life, at a particularly challenging time.
How do we let God reach us in our own times of suffering or challenge – be it boredom, stress or distress? How do we learn to connect with God in the midst of life with all its hurricanes (bereavement, job loss, the demands of a job you hate?); its earthquakes (our anxiety for somebody we love, for ourselves, our sense of inadequacy at what life requires of us?); its fires (the distractions of all those exciting things that build us up but we know deep down are bad for us or other people, the distraction of the things we want but do not have and which spoil our enjoyment of what we do have?). How do we learn to experience God’s love and find His goodness which so often seems to be silent in the face of life’s difficulties? How do we discover the importance of God beyond the busyness and stress of our daily lives? How do we learn to discern the light murmuring of God when we are being tossed around in the storms of our lives?
Below are a few simple pointers to focus our minds and efforts. Below are some resources online and books which may also help the reader who is interested to look further.
1. Take a leaf out of Elijah’s book and look after your physical and emotional needs. If the last, or another lockdown brings up problematic negative thoughts and emotions then get qualified counselling.
2. Trust Jesus died for YOU on the cross because he loves YOU. No matter how you feel about yourself or the ways you are messing up, Jesus likes you and He finds things to enjoy about you. You are good enough for Him. In the same way that people typically love their children, so God loves us, and infinitely better (Matthew 7:11.) In a similar way, we may not have children but love our cats and dogs; we enjoy them as they are and we get them, we make allowances for them because we understand their weaknesses. God loves you. He made you and He gets you. There is no condemnation…only hope. (Romans 8:1)
3. See God’s love in the little things – the food and comforts we do have and the little encouragements which may be few and far between and which can be so easy to miss or just dismiss. Savour them and thank God for them and recognise that they only happen because of God’s good nature. Value them and try to make a response of thanks to God.
4. So God loves you and you are good enough for Him but I believe He still has plans and ambition for you. I believe God wants all of us to grow more like Jesus and here the endurance of suffering comes in. You are a work in progress and always will be until you get to heaven. Elijah’s 40 day walk on foot was a long walk…and so our times of suffering can be long. But it can change us and in ways we could never expect. As Elijah did, you can learn to take comfort and strength from God in suffering. God can use it to bless you – improbable or impossible as that may seem (Romans 8:28.) Just holding on to that belief can be a help and encouragement. It is not all for nothing. Keep going.
5. Stay close to the sacraments. They are the special opportunity Catholics have to receive God's grace to help us to be renewed by our daily lives. Find people who inspire you and encourage you in your faith. For a lot of us that means reading.
6. Learn to pray – or learn to pray a little more. This seems to be what Elijah spent a lot of his journey doing and there are so many ways of doing this. Pray as you can, not as you can’t and trust God to take the prayer you manage and amplify it, just as Jesus multiplied the bread and fish after the Sermon on the Mount. (Mark 6:30-44.)
Like Elijah, lets each of us try to join the remnant and be ready to equip ourselves to help. Let each of us try to allow discernment to form a part of how we choose to live.
Let us pray
Almighty, ever-living God,
your prophet Elijah, our Father,
lived always in your presence
and was zealous for the honour due to your name.
May we, your servants, always seek your face
and bear witness to your love.
We ask this grace through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God, for ever and ever.
Why not find out more? We would recommend you read some of these excellent books or articles:
- A New Hope: Book II
- How to pray. A retreat talk by Bishop Greg Homeming
- St Buenos retreat centre offers advice and resources on different ways to pray on their website
- Practical advice about one type of prayer which helps us get perspective on the things which drown out God:
- Into the Silent Land: the practice of contemplation. Martin Laird (OSA.) Oxford University Press 2006: for those who experience condemnation for themselves or for loved ones this book may help.
- Good Goats: healing our image of God. Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn. Paulist Press 1999
- Saint Elijah
- Elijah - Prophet & Saint
- Carmel School of Prayer
Fiona lives in London and works as a nurse. She is married with three children.