?Then, the word of the LORD came to Elijah? - I Kings 17:2
?Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.? - Abba Moses
The Desert Fathers were an early Christian movement whereby believers devoted themselves to finding God in the way of simplicity, humility, solitude, and love. One seeker asked Abba Moses for guidance on how to find truth, and Abba Moses replied, ?go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.? The Desert Fathers held the conviction that God is most abundantly visible when we are most abundantly able to see. The distractions of city life, the ego-filled quests for recognition and prestige, and the bustling social life built on outward appearances were all understood as detracting from what is most important - humility first, simplicity, and loving union with God from whom and in whom all things have their being.
Elijah found himself in a similar situation. Surrounded by political turmoil, marked by ambitious people placing their own power quests above Israel's need for good political leadership and by a culture that wavered between obedience to the true God to whom all creation lovingly belonged and the capricious god of the prosperous harvest, Baal, Elijah was led to a time of simplicity, humility, and reflection. Jeroboam was established as the first king of the northern Kingdom, Israel, followed by Nadab (2 years), Baasha (24 years), Elah (2 years), Zimri (7 days), Tibni vs. Omri (a conflict, a death, then Omri's 12-year reign), and finally Ahab. Ahab built shrines to Ugaritic gods, took a pagan wife, and fulfilled the 500-year curse placed by Joshua by rebuilding Jericho. It would be hard to imagine crazier times, but I bet we could come close if we tried hard enough.
Before Elijah's great confrontation with the prophets of Baal, the foreign deity who did not rescue Israel from Egypt nor lovingly create all that is with the delightful refrain ?it is good,? Elijah apparently required a time of humility and solitude. The LORD gave instructions to Elijah, which he was able to hear clearly. Elijah depended on a stream for water and ravens for bread and meat, and when the drought dried the stream, he found himself begging a widow for water and bread. Before surviving on the provisions of brooks and ravens and widows, Elijah first survived on listening to God speaking uniquely to him and his situation. After a period of drought, famine and isolation, Elijah emerged ready to confront the corruption and lead a spiritual renewal for the healing of his land.
One might wonder how Elijah emerged with such spiritual and moral clarity that he, the sole prophet of the LORD, could challenge the 450 prophets of Baal in a head-on challenge to see which deity could ignite a pyre. I believe this is where the insight of the Desert Fathers speaks so clearly. When you are pulled away from all that is familiar, however disordered and dysfunctional it may be, you may begin to realize that the God who is infinitely present in the unknown and even in a cloistered cell is infinitely present everywhere; the God who gave rise to you and said ?it is very good,? also leant existence to all that is and declared its goodness too.
Whatever life you knew before COVID-19 altered all of our lives and drove us to our respective cloistered cells, it was certainly a mixed bag - some excellent things you wouldn't change and some things you wished would change. The question before you, and before me, is what will we do with this time in our cloistered cell and what will be the meaning of our isolation. We could pass the time begrudgingly, wishing it would go faster even to the point of our own detriment and that of other people, or we could embrace the moment with the humility, simplicity, and seeking loving union with God exhibited by Elijah and the Desert Fathers. We might find, if we truly release ourselves to God, that God speaks clarity into our spirits and minds such that we are transformed inwardly and we become agents of transformation in the world after this time of isolation. We will eventually emerge from this period and find our way into a ?new normal.? This may be in a year. Maybe longer. Maybe shorter. It is up to us whether we trust God's action within us to make ourselves and, through us, our world a more loving and sacred place.