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Dark Devotional: Of Hearth-Cakes and Knitted Sweaters: An Unlikely Portrait of God

Dark Devotional: Of Hearth-Cakes and Knitted Sweaters: An Unlikely Portrait of God August 6, 2021

 

During a surprisingly moving formation session, a group of us sat around doing a close reading of the first few chapters of Genesis, looking for clues that would tell us something about what God is like.

One of the women started to speak slowly, even with awe: “If you look closely, it seems as though God makes clothes for Adam and Eve himself, as though he’s sitting down to knit them something with his own two hands. Just imagine that, God sitting down to knit you clothes. The humility, the love it would take to do that–just imagine it!”

I had never seen the passages that way. My readings of Genesis have most often been reflexive and shame-filled: Adam and Eve discover they’re naked, suddenly they need clothes, they get clothes. Eek. The end. It most often reads to me like that dream we’ve all had (we have, right? It’s not just me?) of showing up in your high school hallway totally naked. There’s panic, there’s unmitigated embarrassment, there’s a sense of aloneness and horror. You run to get some clothes. The end.

But this new way of looking at Genesis, this sense of God looking upon God’s people not with disdain, but with tender care . . . that has stayed with me. This is the God who shows up again in our first reading for this Sunday from I Kings.

We see Elijah coming up against his own limits, totally spent in exhaustion and shame, maybe even a bit too much self-pity. Elijah cries out:

“This is enough, O Lord! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”

The shame arrives coupled with nearly unspeakable disappointment–Elijah had wanted to follow his God, to live rightly. He had hoped to break the spell of his own fate. Instead he sees only weakness in himself, a mirror of all the disappointments of his lineage.

Luckily, we have a God who not only doesn’t believe in fate–our God also seems to believe in pragmatism. Yes, our God is the Creator of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen. Our God is also the guy who, after rising from the dead, goes to the beach and has some fish with his friends. God is filled with majesty, but also a good bit of common sense.

In our first reading, Elijah feels the weight of the world descending upon him. He gets serious, essentially telling God he’s not worthy and can’t possibly go on. God’s response to this existential crisis? He sends an angel to “touch him” and “orders him to eat.” It’s as though God is lovingly rolling his eyes at Elijah. He knows he has to send an angel–no way Elijah’s going to come to the answer himself. God knows Elijah will only listen if the answer comes in some kind of divinely-inspired, or at least religiously-approved form. 

It can require divine intervention to do the simplest, most reasonable thing. Or at least permission. With all the beefs I have with Thomas Aquinas (misogyny, a totalizing paradigm that dominates the interpretation of nearly all Catholic doctrine, etc.), the quote attributed to him about alleviating sorrow sets me right every time. I don’t even care if he really said it: “Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath and a glass of wine.”

Granted, the quote is not going to cure clinical depression or tragic loss, but for addressing the stressors of everyday life, it’s pretty solid advice, and when I follow it, I really do feel better. Relaxing bath, glass of dry cabernet, early to bed–it’s a nearly unbeatable recipe. But had I read it in, say, Real Simple, would I even try it? Probably not. But hey, tell me it’s Thomas Aquinas, and I’ve got all the imprimatur I need to get my attention  and give me the internal permission to care for myself.

Similarly, perhaps, with Elijah’s angel. Elijah’s all, “I’m doomed, I can’t go on,” and the angel’s like, “Here’s a hearth cake. It’s delicious, it’s nutritious. Eat it.” Elijah does, but it’s not enough. The angel taps on his head again, and is like, “Keep going. If you want to accomplish anything worthwhile, you need this. Seriously. Take care of yourself!”

So Elijah does what he’s commanded, eating, drinking, paying attention to his actual needs. We read that after tending to the needs of his mind and body, he was “strengthened by that food {and that he} walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.”

When we have serious stuff to do, it can feel so superfluous to pay attention to our needs. But seriously, what else can we do? We have a God that sits down to knit us clothes when we feel naked and ashamed, a God that sends angels bearing cakes when we’re exhausted–let’s accept the gifts, guys. When we have the humility to accept the tender gifts, along with the limitations that necessitate them, sometimes we find, paradoxically, that we’re exalted, delivered, like Elijah, to the very altar of God.

 

Holly Mohr lives, works and writes in Pittsburgh, PA with her husband and three children. She’s hoping for a glass of wine and a bath tonight, but lives in mortal terror of an angel touching her. Seriously, incorporeal beings–don’t get any ideas.

 


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