You may wonder why I am beginning this post in such an unusual way by polling you on your definition of “grumbling”. My last post was dedicated to this common malady and I decided it deserved a second appearance for two reasons: First, my research I kept uncovering different facets of the verb that I wanted to share, and secondly I wanted to address some potential remedies for something I experience as challenging both in my personal faith journey and in my daily encounters. Some definitions I discovered that bring to the imagination different images were:
- muttering between your teeth – quiet growling with unclear speech
- murmuring – a quiet sound beneath the surface (i.e. “heart murmur”)
- rumbling – low, dull noises as a distant thunder
And the one I mentioned in the last post:
- the cry of anger and human disappointment emerging from our throat – that perhaps underlies the question “Is God in our midst?”
Looking ahead to this coming Sunday’s First Reading from 1 Kings, we hear about the prophet Elijah – a story not entirely different from the Israelite‘s journey in the desert from last week (Ex 16:2-12) The setting is the Northern Kingdom during a time of drought. We find Elijah fleeing the wrath of Jezebel, King Ahab‘s foreign wife. She has been at work killing the prophets of the LORD and worshipping false gods, including Baal. Elijah has just triumphed over the priests of Baal, and Jezebel is angry and sets out to kill him. Fearing for his life, he flees and his path reverses the journey of the Israelites through the desert. Within this context we hear: (Read the passage aloud if you can)
“Elijah went a day’s journey into the desert, until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it. He prayed for death saying: “This is enough, O LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers. He lay down and feel asleep under the broom tree, but then an angel touched him and ordered him to get up and eat.” (1 Ki 19:4-5)
Is there a word or phrase that stood out? Pause and hold it for a moment in silence.
Reread the passage and let it sink in. Sit in quiet for a moment.
There are many parallels in these two stories. Both stories take place in the desert when the characters seem to have reached the point of desperation. In both, the LORD is acknowledged and in both they are ready to die rather than face what lies ahead. In both, the LORD sends the nourishment to sustain them. What is different? Does Elijah grumble? Is this significant?
When I read the Elijah passage, I was struck by the phrase “He prayed for death” – It made me think of the times I have been so tired that felt I could not do one more thing. I thought about the times I hadn’t stacked up well against my responsibilities. I thought about the times I feel asleep while praying – offering up everything in my exhaustion. The passage was very powerful for me. I have felt the isolation, as if sitting alone under a solitary tree in a desert, just this past week. And while I might not have prayed for death – I have prayed for peace, for quiet, for consolation in the midst of daily life.
And then I thought about grumbling. Grumbling doesn’t help – (have you noticed that?) it only brings more desolation and despondency – these are the fruits of grumbling. Last post I offered a stance of humility as a remedy for grumbling to God. But in this post I wanted to flesh out what this might look like in day today, and tomorrow. I believe each of the words I placed on the poll can be a remedy to grumbling. I invite you to take the one you chose (if you did so) and to put some flesh on it today – try to be aware of the grumbling – both within yourself and in the world around you today.
Challenge Question: Elijah prayed rather than grumbling, how can you use your chosen remedy to combat grumbling today?