I Kings 19:1-4, 8-15a
St. Luke 8:26-39
This happened sometime in the late sixties. I had walked from my father's rectory in San Mateo to the Hillsdale Shopping Center, and as I entered I came into a small courtyard adjacent to the parking lot. It was a lovely space with tropical plants and a Benjamin Bufano sculpture. I enjoyed this space it was an oasis of sorts. However, as I descended into the courtyard I noticed a woman seated at a table eating lunch, by herself. I was filled with such a sense of sadness, for her, that I cannot put it behind me. I don't know whether she was lonely or not, but I do remember my deep empathy for her, as she ate alone.
Loneliness, solitude, in our society is a mixed bad. Some immersed in it find themselves victims, left out of the usual hubbub of community and life with others. Edith Piaf, in an interview was asked if she feared death. She replied that her fear of death was not so great as her fear of solitude and loneliness. And so we pluck our corporate heart strings for the single, the childless, the unmarried, the loners, whether they need it or not.
On the other hand, the lonely can often be heroes; people who stand alone to lead, or to listen, to plumb the depths of understanding, or to poke into the places where others fear to tread. So it is with our readings thiis morning.
There is Elijah fresh from the contest with the priests of Baal. Having called down divine fire from the heavens to consume his sacrifice, his victory is tired and unsatisfying for he alone is faithful to the God of Israel. He is feeling abandoned.
There is Paul the author of the second reading, who though an apostle, sits on the outside from those who had actually seen Jesus, and walked and talked with him. He calls himself "one who was untimely born." There is a great loneliness in his writing, having abandoned the faith of his fathers to accept the embrace of Christ.
There is Jesus, as well. Loneliness in the desert, loneliness in the garden, loneliness in the wilderness, loneliness in his mission.
There is only one person in todays readings who is not lonely, and that is the demoniac in the Gospel. He is a veritable community unto himself, being filled with demons who call themselves "Legion."
We know how to find God in great music and art, in the great Eucharistic Community, in the numbers, large and small that gather around the altar. That is known to us. But to find God in our aloneness, or in our solitude is a skill that the scriptures would teach us today.
Israel treks toward the Holy Land with forty years of being separated from the world of the Ancient Near East. They wanderthey are forced to wander. It is for them an earthly purgatory. Their loneliness is a place of being cleansed and of coming to an understanding with God. It is by design that the Law and the knowledge of God should come in desolation. The myth tells us that sin came in a garden so the enlightenment of the desert brings something of a balance.
St. John the Baptist, whose nativity is celebrated on this date, understood that as he not only journeyed to the wilderness but attracted others to come, to be cleansed, to listen, to be forgiven and baptized in a place where water was most precious.
Finally there is Elijah. The Elijah who knew God in miracles of abundance and fire, noise and signs. And yet God calls him to the wilderness where Elijah does not find God in thunder, storm, or lightning, but rather in a still, small voice. It is in this quiet solitude, that Elijah learns to listen to really hear the God he represented.
All of these people returned to the world of cities and community. Paul founded his churches in the great cities of Asia Minor and Greece, but retained in his "thorn in his side" a sense of the quiet place where God would come. Elijah returned to the royal courts to announce God's good pleasure, and to anoint kings to God's purpose, and yet he would also be a remnant, a piece of what was once a faithful nation. The demoniac who Jesus heals has one request, that he be able to join Jesus and his followers. It is a request that Jesus does not grant, but sends him back, alone, to tell others what has happened to him. For it was only in the silence of his soul that he could recognize the healing that had been accomplished in him.
Perhaps that is what we need in our own lives. A period of respite, a time of solitude and quiet, the miracle of hearing and of listening. Rejoicing as we are brought to the community's table to receive the body and blood of Christ, we are, like the demoniac, sent back to seek quiet and to know God.
I liked the ending of the Soprano's the blank screen, the quiet. It invited understanding. May we, all of us, have the experience of the still small voice that speaks directly to us that makes us aware of God.