Tuesday, January 3, 2012 — The 10th day of Christmas , Year Two
William Passavant, Prophetic Witness, 1894
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p 941)
Psalms 68 (morning) 72 (evening)
1 Kings 19:9-18
“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” (John 6:27a)
The turning of the new year invites us to examine at our lives. Where do we place our priorities? How do we use our energy? What do we worry about?
Although it was more than 35 years ago, I still remember the last sentence of the first talk at my Cursillo weekend. “If your thoughts, your money, and your free time were a comet, and you were attached to its tail, where would it be taking you? That is your ideal.”
Where is energy and motivation of our thoughts and time directed? The language of John’s gospel contrasts the “food that perishes” with the “food that endures for eternal life.” I think it is significant that Jesus speaks that way following the feeding of the multitude. Using the modest resources of two fish and five barley loaves — the food of the poor — Jesus has given to hungry people the food for the day that nourishes the body. He does not ignore their basic material needs. Yet he points beyond that material feeding toward the more significant “food that endures for eternal life.” I also think it is significant that Jesus speaks that way following a terrifying journey with the disciples in a rough sea with strong wind.
I sense a similar theme in today’s story from 1 Kings. Elijah has been fighting in the political arena, and though he has profoundly defeated a party of his enemies, his life is threatened now, and he has been forced to flee. In the wilderness, God feeds him and takes him to a place of encounter. Elijah experiences the great wind that splits mountains and breaks rock. He feels the earthquake that shakes the foundations. He sees the fire that burns all that is before it. Although these are signs that elsewhere are manifestations of God, God is not in the wind or earthquake or fire. It is not in the dramatic and demonstrable expressions of power that Elijah knows the divine presence. It is in the “sound of sheer silence” that Elijah knows himself to be in the holy presence.
From that quiet center, Elijah is renewed. Again he is given a political task with a religious dimension. He is charged with the anointing of two kings and a successor prophet.
From the quiet center comes the food that endures for eternal life. Out of that place of union and renewal we are charged to move into the world to address such material needs as hunger, poverty and the exercise of political power.
John’s Jesus knows how easy it is to be distracted by the feeding, even when the mission is successful — to see primarily the material significance of the work. All of us are so easily caught up in the dramatic and powerful — the wind and earthquake and fire — even when there is no presence within the power. There is so much that can distract us — especially the quantifiable, and whatever confronts us with its great power.
Below the rough sea and daily bread, and beyond the wind, earthquake and fire, there is the food that endures for eternal life. It is food that is often given to us in the sound of sheer silence.
Where do our thoughts, our resources, and our free time tend to collect? Is is the material worries of daily life or even the structural evils of hunger and poverty and politics? Is it today’s peculiar dramas wherever the winds are blowing, the earthquakes and fires that fill our headlines or threaten our securities?
The new year invites us to turn toward that place where the food that endures for eternal life feeds us from the infinite silence of God. Be still, and be fed. Then turn to feed others, and to face the elements fearlessly.