An excellent article on the Beeb points out that is is not so much the trauma we experience as the way we respond to it that results in the serious damage we carry with us into life. It is the dwelling on, ruminating about, the past event that keeps the memory fresh in our lives and so present in our being that we continue to re-experience it. As we ruminate, it is as if a movie keeps playing in our head to the point that we can no longer see what is in front of us.
This rumination can shape our language to the point that we start telling the story of our life today in order to support the understanding of the past. In this way we shape the present to maintain rather than challenge history.
Elijah is doing this in this story of Elijah at the Cave. He’s spent so much time on the run from the king and helpless before the massive forces around that he doesn’t see the miracles anymore. His life since 1 Kings 17.1 has been a long story of earnest prayer and faithful answer with a backdrop of famine, drought, and murderous hostility. At every turn, God has been faithful and answered in concrete and at times very dramatic ways.
But Elijah just sees the loss and uncertainty. He has focused on the defeat so much that he finally asks to die. But instead of giving him death, God gives him food and drink “or else the journey will be too much for you.” He eats and drinks and goes into the desert for forty days until he comes to the mountain of God.
Faced with all these miracles, we’d expect him to have noticed that he is not alone and that God is deeply powerful. But no, he’s stuck on the same monotonous whine. “I have worked very hard but everything falls apart, and people are after me, and I’m all alone!” So God shows him a Rushing Mighty Wind, and a Thunderous Rumbling Earthquake, and a Roaring Fire and then the sound of the thinnest whisper. Surely now Elijah will have twigged to reality. But no, he’s still on the same monotonous whine. Nobody loves him, everybody hates him, his life is meaningless and he wants it to be over.
If God were actually the stereotypical Perpetual Meanie we are told to expect this would totally be time for the Smite Button, but God isn’t that way. Instead Elijah is reminded that God is real and present, given tasks to accomplish, and (quite firmly) told that he is Not The Only One Left.
His problem is that he had gotten so focused on the hard parts of life that he couldn’t see anything but that Bad Movie of his past. It played over and over in his head, he ruminated on it and so he could not see God at work. This is where our lives come into this story because, really, we ruminate a lot. We ruminate on failed relationships, lost jobs, lost prosperity, and blighted hopes. All of this is on top of actual trauma we experience.
So a thought check is on order. What stories are you telling yourself about the world, what injuries are you dwelling on, and is it possible that by dwelling on your past hurts that you are expecting (and possibly even setting up) new hurts in the future. Do you expect that people are criticizing you? Do you look for the nasty dig in other’s words and then try to fix whatever you assume is wrong in you? Are you (for that matter, am I) looking at the world through a lens of hurt and unhappiness that blinds us to the miracle of the new day?
Perhaps it’s time to leave rumination to the ruminants.