Poem for a Tuesday — “Growing Light” by George Ella Lyon
I write this poem out of darkness to you who are also in darkness because our lives demand it.
This poem is a hand on your shoulder a bone touch to go with you through the hard birth of vision. In other words, love shapes this poem is the fist that holds the chisel, muscle that drags marble and burns with the weight of believing a face lives in the stone a breathing word in the body.
I tell you though the darkness has been ours words will give us give our eyes, opened in promise a growing light.
from Claiming the Spirit Within, ed. Marilyn Sewell. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996. P. 318.
The gap between church and society is at no time more noticeable than it is on this first Sunday of Advent.
Out there, enormous, electric snowflakes hang from village lampposts as a sign of the season. In here, the Advent wreath has returned to its seasonal home, above the baptismal font.
Out there, we have weathered the buying frenzy of Black Friday and small business Saturday, and we are anticipating the online deals to be found on Cyber Monday. In here, we are thinking about using our resources to help neighbors in need throughout the coming weeks. We are bringing in canned corn for Christmas Food Boxes or undertaking a Reverse Advent Calendar or planning the gift of clean water with shallow wells for Africa.
Out there, strings of Christmas lights are decking the eaves. Snowy yards are about to sprout inflatable snowmen and Grinches. In here, we have donned the penitential color of purple and hung Advent greens that speak of eternal life amid winter’s death.
Out there, the feasting and merriment have begun. The grocery stores are filled with holiday treats, we can place our order for Buche de Noel at the Left Bank Café, and we are revving up for holiday gatherings with family and friends after twenty long months of social distance. In here, Advent has traditionally called us to fasting, study, reflection, and repentance. We probably won’t fast, but we’ll take home Advent devotionals for reading and prayer, or we’ll Zoom together to learn from C.S. Lewis.
Out there, we’ve been hearing Christmas carols ever since Halloween. In here, we listen to the somber sounds of “Wachet Auf,” “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” and “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.”
Out there, we are more than a month away from champagne toasts, the ball dropping in Times Square, and the joyful greeting of “Happy New Year!” In here, we keep God’s time with a holy calendar that today marks the start of a new year.
In these weeks of Advent, there is a palpable gap between our church life and the spin that our culture has put on preparing for Christmas. Can you see it? Can you feel it?
That gap between the sacred and the secular seems even more pronounced when we ponder today’s reading from Luke’s gospel. Sounding a lot like the Old Testament Prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Joel, Jesus got downright apocalyptic, warning his listeners of a coming Day of Judgment. There would be signs in the heavens, chaos among the nations, and tumult upon the waters. Amid the discord and disruption, Jesus called his followers to vigilance, saying: look, be on guard, stay alert, pray. All that eerie, end times prognostication sounds ominous and hard to swallow along with our holiday eggnog.
It helps to remember that when Jesus stood in the Temple court and got all prophetic, he was in the midst of a different holiday season, and he was surrounded by people who were sadly and fearfully aware of the gap between God’s Kingdom and the world that they lived in. It was Passover week. From around Israel and across the Roman Empire, the Jewish people had come to Jerusalem to remember that God had once delivered them from the cruel bondage of Egypt. With plagues of frogs and gnats, darkness, disease, and death, God had shown Pharaoh who was boss, and then Moses had led the people forth to freedom. That Passover week, Jesus and his friends would remember God’s deliverance with the sacrifice of a lamb, the signing of psalms, and the sharing of a final Passover seder.
There was a tense, politically-charged gap between those Passover memories and the everyday reality of Jesus’s listeners. Israel was again in bondage, a vassal state of the Roman Empire. A legion of Roman soldiers had ridden out of Caesarea and up to Jerusalem amid the Passover pilgrims. Any dreams of Jewish freedom would be promptly and brutally quashed. The local political and religious powers served the emperor’s purpose, not God’s purpose. As that week continued, this would become increasingly clear as the Temple authorities conspired with Judas to arrest and condemn the Lord.
Given the context in which Jesus’s prophetic words were originally spoken, they take on a hopeful tone. As Jesus spoke in the Temple court, he reminded his listeners that it was God, not Rome, who had ultimate authority. God, who had launched creation with a Big Bang, hurled a billion stars across the heavens, and delivered their ancestors from slavery in Egypt, God was still at work and would one day bring all things to completion. Indeed, before the week was out, God’s epic plan for the world’s redemption would embark on a new chapter as Jesus took on the sins of the world on the cross and launched a revolution of self-giving love that continues to ripple through the corridors of time. God’s Kingdom was coming. They could count on it. There was hope to be had amid the world’s darkness.
In the UK, the train conductor encourages travelers to “mind the gap” as they step off the platform and onto the train, to notice and attend to the divide between the two. In this Advent season, Jesus’s apocalyptic words are a little like that conductor’s call. We are to be mindful of the gap between God’s Kingdom and life as we know it. It’s terribly tempting to board the Christmas juggernaut, to be swept along in these coming weeks by the non-stop shopping, eating, decorating, celebrating, and partying whirlwind. That train is leaving the station and it’s standing room only, but Advent invites us to a different kind of journey. I’m not telling you to give up your seat on the Polar Express, but Jesus and I are asking you this morning to simply mind the gap. Remember the true reason for the season. Notice the people and places where redemption is needed, God feels distant, and the love of Christ would sure make a difference.
This Advent, we could resolve to live as signs of that coming Kingdom where justice is served, the wounded find wholeness, and love prevails. This Advent we could dare to bridge the gap between “in here” and “out there.” Would you like to know how?
Be hope for those bowed down with sorrow or grief. Send them a caring note. Include them in your holiday plans. Invite a hurting friend to join you for our Longest Night service on December 8th, when in shared worship, prayer, and music we will be reassured of God’s steadfast love.
Be care and compassion for a neighbor who feels lost and alone. Take them an Advent devotional. Share with them a link to our online worship. Bring them along to a Sunday service or for story-telling and music in our Blest Be the Tie Christmas Evening on Dec. 15.
Be generous with and for those who know poverty and privation in this world of terrible abundance. Ring the bell for the Salvation Army. Make a donation for a Christmas Food Box. Volunteer with the Holiday Helpers. Help us meet our goal of giving shallow wells to six African villages.
Be love for those people who are hard-to-love. You know them: the prickly and the grumpy, the mean and the miserly, the bigot and the bleeding heart. Try a random act of kindness. Turn the other cheek. Listen deeply, pray fervently, and don’t give up. Be your best Bob Cratchitt to the Ebenezer Scrooges of this world.
Mind the gap, my friends. Be signs of Christ, who bridge the gulf between “in here” and “out there.” As we stand, like Jesus did, in that uncomfortable gap between life as it was meant to be and life as we know it, we just may catch sight of that other Kingdom, the heavenly one that Jesus anticipated all those years ago. May it be so. Amen.
Kathy Beach-Verhey. “Homiletical Perspective on Luke 21:25-36” in Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 1. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.
Mariam J. Kamell. “Exegetical Perspective on Luke 21:25-36” in Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 1. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.
25“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
29Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 34“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into God’s presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is God that made us, and to God we belong; we are God’s people, and the sheep of God’s pasture. Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and courts with praise. Give thanks to God, bless God’s name. For the Lord is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever, and God’s faithfulness to all generations. —Psalm 100
“For each new morning with its light, For rest and shelter of the night, For health and food, For love and friends, For everything Thy goodness sends. For flowers that bloom about our feet; For tender grass, so fresh, so sweet; For song of bird, and hum of bee; For all things fair we hear or see, Father in heaven, we thank Thee!” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
Thanksgiving was a special holiday for the family of poet Ralph Waldo Emerson—so much so that they celebrated for two consecutive days. They feasted at Uncle Samuel Ripley’s home on Thanksgiving Day. Then, on the following day, they would “keep festival” with extended family and friends at their home in Concord. It was one of Emerson’s favorite occasions. Indeed, he called the day “Good Friday.” According to family recollections, it was a fun-filled day of “family gossip,” feasting, and games.
Thanksgiving is central to the Christian life. Our Israelite ancestors made pilgrimage to Jerusalem, entering “God’s gates with thanksgiving and courts with praise.” At Passover, they gave thanks for God’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. At Pentecost, they rejoiced in the harvest of wheat and God’s generous providence. When New England Puritans celebrated their first American thanksgiving, their feast shared sentiments of Pentecost and Passover. They were grateful for their harvest and the help of indigenous neighbors; and they gave thanks for a new home, free from persecution for their Protestant beliefs.
The tradition of gratitude for God’s deliverance and providence continues in our annual Thanksgiving Day celebrations. Despite the hardship of pandemic and the losses that have touched our friends and families, the Lord has seen us through. Emerging from the COVID cloud has felt a bit like deliverance from bondage in Egypt. Despite the isolation and the anxiety of the past twenty months, we have much to be grateful for, from life and love to bird song and bee hum.
According to researchers at Harvard Medical School, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps us feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve our health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. Returning to God with gratitude and acknowledging God’s goodness to us deepens our spiritual life, brings hope, and builds trust that God will continue to work in ways that help and bless.
So, pass the mashed potatoes. Thanksgiving is good for us—in body, mind, and spirit. You may not follow Emerson and his family in celebrating extravagantly for two days; yet, wherever you are this Thanksgiving Day, may it be a time of goodness and gratitude.
“O Lord that lends me life, lend me a heart replete with thankfulness!”—William Shakespeare
“Be present in all things and thankful for all things.”—Maya Angelou
Poem for a Tuesday — “A Hardware Store as Proof of the Existence of God” by Nancy Willard
I praise the brightness of hammers pointing east like the steel woodpeckers of the future, and dozens of hinges opening brass wings, and six new rakes shyly fanning their toes, and bins of hooks glittering into bees,
and a rack of wrenches like the long bones of horses, and mailboxes sowing rows of silver chapels, and a company of plungers waiting for God to claim their thin legs in their big shoes and put them on and walk away laughing.
In a world not perfect but not bad either let there be glue, glaze, gum, and grabs, caulk also, and hooks, shackles, cables, and slips, and signs so spare a child may read them, Men, Women, In, Out, No Parking, Beware the Dog.
In the right hands, they can work wonders.
From the Kenyon Review, New Series, Spring 1989, Volume XI, No. 2
Are you worried? If you are, you’re not alone. Let’s face it. These are worrisome times.
We are feeling worried about COVID-19. The Franklin County Health Department says that we have thirty-nine cases of COVID in Harrietstown this morning and fifty-six in Tupper Lake. Those are our highest numbers of the pandemic. While most of us are fully vaccinated and not at risk for severe illness, we worry about our senior seniors and friends with immune system compromises who face greater risk. We have concern for our kids who are still getting shots in arms. We think how tough this must be for our healthcare professionals—the hospital staff, nurses, and doctors who have spent the past twenty months on the front lines.
We’re also feeling a worried resignation that we’ll be dealing with the new coronavirus for a long time. Worldwide in the past week, cases have increased in 72 countries, with twice as many new cases reported here in the states in the past 28 days. In fact, the only two countries in the world that did not report new cases last week were the Vatican and Oceania—that’s a small cluster of south Pacific Islands. We don’t like what the experts have to say. Dr. Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, warns that COVID-19 won’t go away. It will simply become one of many viruses that cause infections, and there will always be a baseline number of cases, hospitalizations, and even deaths.
Related to the pandemic, we are feeling stressed about economics. The US consumer price index has surged 6.2 percent from a year ago in October. That’s the highest rise in thirty-one years. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said last Sunday that quashing COVID-19 is key to lowering inflation. If we can get a handle on this acute phase of the epidemic, then the surge in the price of commodities, like crude oil, should abate in the second half of 2022. But in the meantime, we are feeling the spike in prices at the grocery store and the gas pump. We may have also noticed a phenomenon that has been named “skimpflation.” Businesses can’t keep enough employees to deliver the experiences and customer service that we previously enjoyed, and so we are paying more for less. Service is slower at restaurants. Airline flights are being cancelled. Businesses have cut hours. To complicate matters, COVID has created supply chain issues. Santa might give us a raincheck this year as imported goods don’t make it to store shelves or we balk at the exorbitant price of the latest gift fads. Am I making you feel worried in writing about this?
As Jesus shared today’s words from the Sermon on the Mount, his friends and followers had worries of their own. Many people in the Galilee were subsistence farmers, always one crop failure or drought away from hunger. Some of Jesus’ friends were fishermen. The fish in the Sea of Galilee belonged to Caesar, but you could pay a pretty shekel for a license to cast your nets and earn your living. That licensing fee was substantial—the cost of about a third of your catch. A night when your nets were empty wasn’t just a waste of time, it was a threat to your livelihood. First century financial failure didn’t land you in bankruptcy court. It led to debt slavery, consigning yourself or your family to a period of conscripted labor. That sounds worrisome to me.
Jesus and his friends also contended with the constant anxiety of foreign occupation. Client kings, like Herod, were appointed to rule locally in the emperor’s stead, and they typically did so by living large at the expense of the people. Every major city in the land garrisoned Roman soldiers. The Pax Romana (Peace of Roma) was secured with an iron fist, and the law was swift and harsh in responding to civil disobedience. Jesus and his followers lived with the terror of crucifixion and public execution.
Beyond the poverty and the politics, there were religious problems. Even the Chief Priest in the Jerusalem Temple was a Roman appointee. Factions like the Pharisees and Sadducees divided communities with competing understandings of the Torah. It doesn’t take a Bible scholar to see that these factions were lining up in opposition to Jesus. Already, his cousin John had been arrested in an effort to silence his prophetic voice. Already Jesus was anticipating his journey to Jerusalem and the rejection that would await him there. They may not have faced COVID-19, but Jesus and his friends had plenty to worry about.
Jesus’ words in our reading from Matthew 6 are a response to those worries. “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” Jesus called his listeners attention away from their worries. He invited them to instead attend to the present moment: the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. He pointed to pelicans skimming above the surface of the sea and to storks spirally slowly up from nests in the marshes. Jesus gestured to fields of anemones, bright blooms bobbing in the breeze that swept across the hills.
In the gift of the moment, Jesus called his listeners to remember their place in God’s good creation. The empire might be Caesar’s, but the world and all that is in it belonged to God. God, who brought the world into being, continued to care and provide for the birds of the air, the flowers of the field, and those worried first-century Israelites. Jesus reminded his friends that beyond Caesar’s empire there was a holy Kingdom all around them, like a treasure hidden in a field or a pearl of great price. Long after Caesar’s empire would crumble, God’s Kingdom would prevail. It was to this eternal and unstoppable Kingdom that they belonged.
I like to imagine that as the crowd that followed Jesus listened to his words and attended to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, they felt better. Those worried furrows in their brows lost their crease. They took some nice deep breaths. Their hearts began to beat a little slower and their blood pressure fell. As they saw God at work in creation with beauty and power, something shifted within them. They remembered the eternal Kingdom that they served and the Holy One, who had brought them into being and would one day welcome them home. Heads nodded in agreement. An occasional “Amen” broke forth from grateful lips. Everyone went home that day feeling a little less worried and lot more thankful.
We, too, might feel less worried and more thankful if we took Jesus’ words to heart. I’d like to help us do just that.
First, we can make some time in the coming days to attend to the birds of the air, the flowers of the field, and the goodness of God’s creation. Stretch your legs with a favorite neighborhood stroll. Take to the trail. Park your car at Lake Colby and watch the sun set. Watch the rolling flight of the pileated woodpecker. Let the Grey Jays on the Bloomingdale Bog eat from your hand. Ponder the blooms on your Thanksgiving cactus. As we attend to God’s presence and providence at work everywhere all the time, we can trust that God is at work in and for us. We can know that God is with us, even in the dark valley of pandemic. God’s Kingdom always prevails.
Next, we can spend some intentional time with the Lord this week. Carve out ten minutes to sit with God in silence. You can begin by reading today’s gospel reading. Then, do some holy listening. In the quiet of the moment, you can count on your worries to rise up and greet you, as they often do when we actually sit still. Instead of allowing your cares to hijack your quiet time, hand them off to God. Use your imagination to put them in Jesus’ hands. He promises to take our burdens and give us rest. Take some deep breaths in that quiet space, and remember that God, who has worked in the past, will work again in your future.
Finally, once we are reoriented and centered in God, it’s time to get busy in service to that holy Kingdom that calls for our ultimate allegiance. Lace up your sneakers and run to raise money for neighbors in need with the Saranac Lake Turkey Trot. Find a nice, sturdy cardboard box for your Reverse Advent Calendar, adding a canned or dry good daily in December to benefit the Food Pantry. Serve the church in this Advent season by sharing your dramatic or musical talents to help me with a pre-recorded Christmas Program for the children and those feeling a little childlike.
I suspect that as folks travel for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, our COVID numbers won’t improve. We’ll still be wearing masks and minding our social distance. We’ll pay more than we should for that Christmas gift for someone special. When we get a gander at the price, we’ll trade our Christmas roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for ham or turkey. And yet, I have hope that in the coming weeks we may also feel less worried. We’ll consider the birds of the air, the balsam in the forest, and the billion stars in the Adirondack night sky. We’ll remember who we are and Whom we belong to. Thanks be to God.
Steven P. Eason. “Pastoral Perspective on Matthew 6:24-34” in Feasting on the Word, Year A, vol. 3. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011.
“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” — Genesis 3:6
“Part of Eve’s Discussion”by Marie Howe
It was like the moment when a bird decides not to eat from your hand, and flies, just before it flies, the moment the rivers seem to still and stop because a storm is coming, but there is no storm, as when a hundred starlings lift and bank together before they wheel and drop, very much like the moment, driving on bad ice, when it occurs to you your car could spin, just before it slowly begins to spin, like the moment just before you forgot what it was you were about to say, it was like that, and after that, it was still like that, only all the time.
from New American Poets, ed. Myers & Weingarten. Boston: David R. Godine Publisher, 1991
Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota, Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass. And the eyes of those two Indian ponies Darken with kindness. They have come gladly out of the willows To welcome my friend and me. We step over the barbed wire into the pasture Where they have been grazing all day, alone. They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness That we have come. They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other. There is no loneliness like theirs. At home once more, They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness. I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms, For she has walked over to me And nuzzled my left hand. She is black and white, Her mane falls wild on her forehead, And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist. Suddenly I realize That if I stepped out of my body I would break Into blossom.
from James Wright, The Branch Will Not Break, Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1963.
He toddled after me. Bare feet kicked pebbles and stirred small storms of dust. He was practicing his words. “Deshe,” he said, handing over a tuft of dry grass, brittle with drought. I added the grass to my basket.
“Giza etz?” he said tentatively, holding up a stick, just the right size for kindling. Into the basket it went.
“Perach.” He smiled shyly, extending a tiny wilted bouquet of chamomile, clenched in his small fist.
Such a good boy! So generous! I tucked the flowers behind my ear and scooped him up, holding him next to my heart. I could feel his little ribs beneath his robe and see the delicate throb of a vein, pulsing at his temple.
It hadn’t always been like this. My husband, like his father and his father’s father, had gone to sea. We Phoenicians are a seafaring people, weaving a vast web of trade that spans the Great Sea from Sidon to Cyrene, Rome, Malta, and beyond. We pluck fish from the ocean depths, harvest rare pearls from the Gulf of Arabia, and hew great ships from the cedars of Lebanon. For men, it is an adventurous but dangerous life, always at the mercy of wind and wave. For women, it brings loneliness. Always the siren call of the water pulls our men back. Always, there is the waiting.
They said my husband was killed by a lightning strike. First the rigging caught, then the weathered decking. When the fire reached the amphorae of olive oil in the hull, it launched a ball of fire into the sky, worthy of the Great Lighthouse of Alexandria. I don’t know if he drowned or if he burned, but I do know the tight cage of fear that had held my heart ever since.
Our son was weeks old. There was no patriarch to take us in, no kindly kinsman to offer protection. In Zarephath, my neighbors made the sign of the evil eye behind my back, worried that my misfortune would rub off on them. The large amphorae of flour, oil, and salt fish that my husband had left behind slowly emptied, despite every economy. I had grown slight with hunger and my milk had eventually failed.
I was collecting wood for a final fire, a last loaf to be baked, a little oil to be poured out. My child, perched on my hip, looked at me with enormous eyes set in wan cheeks that had once been chubby. As my eyes filled with tears, he demanded to be put down, little arms pushing and legs kicking. With both feet on the ground, he stretched up a hand for me to hold.
“Ezra, Ama!” (Help, Mama!) he said. He tugged on my hand, pulling me homeward. Help? Whose help?
We saw him outside the city gate. He looked like he had been sleeping rough for a long time. His tunic was rumpled, the armpits stained with rings of sweat. His beard was enormous and wild. Bits of straw clung to his shaggy hair. He held a long, sturdy, wooden staff, the sign of a patriarch or a . . .
“Navi!” (prophet), my little boy said. His hands clapped with delight and chuckles swelled his small, empty belly.
Hearing my child, the prophet turned with a sharp look, taking in our skinny forms. “Shalom!” he greeted us, “Please, could I trouble you for some water?”
All the wadis had gone dry with drought, but within the walls of Zarephath, our deep well remained true. It was a simple thing to fulfill his request, but as I nodded and turned to do so, he stopped me.
“And please, a little bread with that? Surely, you have a little something to share with Yahweh’s messenger.”
I thought of the handful of flour and trickle of oil at the bottom of my jars, and the fear that clenched my heart held even tighter. Of all the people in Zarephath to ask for help, why choose us? Our poverty was obvious.
“Lechem?” (bread), my son said, pointing to the prophet.
I sighed. “You do not know what you ask, my friend. My cupboard is bare. We are headed home to eat our final few morsels and call it quits.”
But the prophet wouldn’t take my no for an answer. “Please!” he insisted, sounding both compassionate and authoritative, “Don’t be afraid. Make me a small loaf, bring it here; then, bake for yourself and the boy. Yahweh will bless you!”
It made no sense. Why would I ever consider such a thing at the expense of my child? Yet, my son seemed to have reached a different conclusion.
“Lechem, Ama! Lechem!” (Bread, Mama! Bread!). He stomped his feet, pointed at the prophet, and pulled me toward home.
It was against my better judgment. I stirred the coals from last night’s fire. I fed it with tufts of grass, which caught with a soft chuff. I carefully added our sticks and watched as tongues of flame leapt up. I scooped out most of the last of our meal, mixed it with water, and kneaded it into a smooth cake. I stretched it thin, rubbed it with the last of the oil and slapped it onto the baking stone, now so hot that it sizzled beneath the oiled dough. The fragrance of baking bread made our stomachs roar as the little loaf puffed and turned golden. With skilled fingers, I plucked an edge and flipped it over, revealing a well-browned bottom.
“What am I doing?” I asked my son. His cheeks had pinked with the fire’s warmth.
“Lechem, Ama! Lechem!” he repeated, pointing back to the city gate.
I wrapped the loaf in a cloth and slipped it into my basket. I filled a cup with water and stood swaying in the doorway, basket in one hand, cup in the other. “Stay or go?” I wondered. My son made the decision for me, stomping off on his short legs to the city gate where the prophet waited. I followed, questioning my every step.
I don’t know what I was expecting. A choir of angels? The peal of thunder? A heavenly affirmation? What I got when we found the prophet, waiting outside the gate, was a thank you. “Now, go and do the same thing for yourself,” the prophet instructed. He dismissed us with a nod, said his blessing, and began to devour his loaf with grimy hands.
I picked up my boy, balancing him on my hip as I walked slowly home. I had heard that Yahweh, the great God of Israel, is a generous god with unfailing love for the lost and the poor. Yet here we were, the widow, the orphan, and a stranger, clinging to life by our fingernails, preparing to eat our last bread before returning to our ancestors. Maybe my neighbors were right. Maybe the gods Baal and Asherah had cursed me. Maybe I deserved what was surely coming in the days ahead.
By now, we were home. I set my child down and pushed the door open. He walked over to the great flour jar, taller than he was, and patted it with both hands. “Lechem, Ama? Lechem?” He sounded hopeful.
“Yes, my love, bread.” I answered. I tied an apron on and pushed back my sleeves. I crossed the floor and pried the heavy clay top off the amphora.
Below, my son was stamping his feet. “Lechem, lechem, lechem!”
I was so shocked by what I saw within that I dropped the clay top. It hit the hard earthen floor with a dull thud and split in two. There, within the amphora, finely milled flour rose all the way to the top. I plunged my hands in, and felt the silky dryness slipping through my fingers.
My son had moved to the oil jar. Again, he placed his palms on the rounded sides. He patted with his small hands and sang in a tattoo rhythm, “Shemen zayit! Shemen zayit!” (Olive oil! Olive oil!).
I pried off the top and gasped. The oil jar was filled to the brim, the first pressing, fragrant, clear, and golden green. A few bubbles rose to the top and rested on the surface, as if freshly filled. My boy was laughing now, spinning with childish delight until he plopped down onto his bottom with a breathless thud.
I sat down next to my son, dizzy with hunger and mystery. Perhaps Baal and Asherah had cursed me. But Yahweh, the holy and almighty One of Israel, had blessed me. In an instant, the certainty of our death had changed to the promise of life. My heart felt funny, felt wild and free, felt like the cage that had bound it since the death of my husband had been sprung. I put my hands to my head to stop the world from spinning. As my son crawled into my lap, I laughed and cried until I felt empty and filled with a peace that I had not known since my husband’s death.
Perhaps it was the generosity of Yahweh that made me do it. When God is so good, how can you keep it to yourself? I picked up my son and went back to the city gate where we found the prophet dozing in the sun. Crumbs from my little loaf dotted his beard. A smear of oil had been wiped on the front of his tunic.
I put down my boy and he nudged the prophet’s sandal with his little bare foot. “Navi?” I asked.
He opened an expectant eye. “Call me Elijah.”
“Elijah, my son and I would like you to stay with us. Will you come?” The boy smiled. He reached out one hand to the prophet and with the other pointed home.
The prophet rose and brushed the crumbs from his beard. He balanced his staff against the city wall then reached down to pick up my son, who settled comfortably into his arms. The Prophet Elijah smiled, “We thought you would never ask.”