Posted by: Peadar Ban | July 17, 2009

Trust Me, I’ve Got Your Back

A few mornings ago the first reading in the Office of Readings told the story of Elijah’s encounter with God in the tiny little voice outside his hideout up on the Mountain of the Lord, Hebron. This is a tale everyone’s familiar with, and they think it’s very cool, how God lets the last prophet in Israel find him in a soft whispering wind.

Nice God. Nice Old Prophet. Well, maybe. Go back a few paragraphs, or a chapter or so in the Book of Kings, and find out how Elijah wound up at his time share on the mountain top.

As they used to say on the radio, “When we last saw the Lone Prophet he had…” Well, he’d just slit the throats of 400 prophets of Baal, after pointing out to Ahab (no not THAT one) the King of Israel, that he, poor old Elijah, really couldn’t be that much trouble. (Or was it 800? No matter, it was a lot of work for one prophet.) After all, he was the last prophet left in Israel. Well, not true, exactly, he was the last prophet of, as they used to say, the Lord God. The rest of the guys were members of the International Union of Prophets of Baal, which, if you want the truth, had just about taken over the prophesying business in Israel. It was sort of like the NEA here, controlling who can say what about anything important in the public schools.

It’s funny no one in Hollywood has ever made a movie about Elijah’s life. We’ve had Moses and Jesus, and a bunch of saints, and Mary the Holy Mother of God. Elijah? Not a peep. In a perfect word there’d be one and Jack Palance would be the guy I’d cast in the title role; big, soft voiced and just a little scary looking, enough to go one on one with a disreputable king…or president?

Well, no movie’s been made, or likely to be made. I think it’s because, well, after Moses died being a prophet for the Lord God was not a peculiarly glamorous occupation; unless living in deserts, eating locusts and honey and running for your life is appealing to anyone out there. Come to think of it Moses had no soft job, nor corner office, either. Who needs enemies, as St. Teresa might have said, about the way God treats his friends.

Anyway, back to the story, the next day, Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, not your average soccer Mom, sends a message to Elijah that chills his beans a bit. “May the Lord do thus and so to me if I do not do to you what you did to the 400 prophets of Baal.” That’s when Elijah got out of Dodge and wound up in his room with a view.

It makes for an interesting story, and a very interesting contrast. In act one, we have Elijah and Ahab getting in each other’s faces about the latter going over to the dark side; you know, where they did all the kinds of things we do now, including killing newborns and marrying your best friend’s wife…or husband if that’s what trims your sails for you.

Now that kind of straight talk sort of reminds me of some of our bishops telling certain Catholic politicians that they are coloring outside the lines, so to speak, and the politicians saying that they don’t see things that way. The way they see it, they’re very devout Catholics. Why some of them could even set the Pope straight on the difference between right and wrong. They say.

In act two, Elijah sets them up for the big deal on another mountain, where the altar of God has all but fallen into ruin while them fun loving Baalists have been rocking and rolling all over town. Until, that is, they fall flat on their faces in front of the home town crowd. Elijah, then lights up the place, literally, and we come to the end of the act with him slaughtering the other team, again literally. Why not? They lost.

That brings us to Jezebel’s message and yadda, yadda, including the part about the angel telling the almost despairing wretch of an Elijah to get up and get going, until we wind up on the mountain.

Now I guess I get the reason why no movie. Remember the Ten Commandments, and all of the sturm und drang about the plagues and crossing the red sea? (I would have given Moses to John Wayne. I can see him strolling up to pharaoh and telling him it’s all over. Except that Moses stuttered. OK, so Jack Nicholsen is Aaron. But The Duke is still Moses.)

Anyway, he’s got a lot of Hollywood to his story. Right, Elijah gets to fly to heaven in a flaming chariot, but after the slaughter scene there’s nothing much for a computer to gin up, no 3D stuff.

So you’re probably asking, “What is the point of all of this? I know the story. God’s a small voice. So??” I thought so, too, until a few days ago.

The story’s not about some long dead king and some lonesome prophet. The story’s about me…and you, too…I think. Heck, I know it. Why else tell it to each other, and walk around remembering it. It’s no fairy tale, and it certainly isn’t the same thing as, oh, say, The Aenid.

Not that I’m, or you are, Elijah. No, that’s not the point of it, the big “T” truth of the story. That conversation between the miserable wretch Ahab and Elijah is a conversation taking place right now within me and you, and all of those things called the prophets of Baal run around inside of us, weaknesses, faults, reasons for choosing the easy way or the wrong way. But none of them, as Elijah proved, can get the job done, can make us, finally, feel or be safe or happy.

Somehow or other they must die. And, then what? Well, I guess it’s kind of like the end of an affair, a bit of anxiety, a mess of depression, recrimination and a desire to die or hide out until all of that stuff is over at last; the storm, the earthquake, the fire. Finally, peace, and peace is always something that starts out small, and grows to take over your whole life. “No storm can break my inmost calm…” as the song says.

With peace comes the realization that what has happened wasn’t something that I did, or you did, on my/our own. We had company, and we had help. Some fine day you will have that understanding. We are all Elijah. Don’t get too puffed up about that, though. We are all Ahab and Jezebel, too.

Prophesy to yourself, anyway. He’s got your back.

Come to think of it, maybe this would be a good movie.



  2. The check is in the mail.

  3. If I’m Elijah, it’s a shame that Yul Brynner is no longer with us, since he’s the one I would have liked to play me in the movie, at least the Elijah-me. With exactly the same swagger he gave Pharaoh in The Ten Commandments and the same unchanging intensity… Annette Bening would make a lovely Jezebel.

    Peace, Peter! 🙂

  4. Good Morning Joseph,

    Funny, I thought of him, but finally decided on Palance. I still remember his power in Shane. Of course he was the bully, there. Let’s get together and work up a script.

    Pax vobiscum

  5. Nicely done. [Aeneid, by the way].

    Do you know Franz Werfel’s HEARKEN TO THE VOICE, about Jeremiah?



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