Elijah is stressed. Just like us.
You might recall last month in a sermon, after calling for God to send fire to vaporize the altar on Mount Carmel, Elijah kills the prophets of Baal and flees for his life. Wicked queen Jezebel wants his head, which leaves him feeling frightened and depressed, feeling as if God has abandoned him.
So he goes a day’s journey into the wilderness, and sits down under a solitary broom tree where Elijah does something that needs to be done, by him, and by all of us.
It’s called “forest bathing” and it requires a person to be intentional about stepping away from the world they are overwhelmed by, and immersing themselves in God’s creation and presence. And the first step in this forest bathing is finding what’s called a “sit-spot.”
The act of “forest bathing,” originated in Japan and is designed to calm the spirits of people who are stressed, especially by too much technology.
For example, a group of tech workers in Seattle recently took part in a day called “Unplug and Recharge.” The phrase was meant to be ironic in an effort to be appealing. The reason behind it was that after spending so much time in the information-loaded virtual world, the corporate big wigs felt there was a need to reconnect with the tree-filled real world.
Recent studies have found that people spend as much as six to eight hours a day in front of their screens, and are checking their smartphones several times an hour. One worker tells how he’s hit by 10,000 e-mails a day. Another confessed that he’s typically online as much as 18 hours at a time.
This is evidence that while technology can make our lives easier, it can make it much more difficult, which is why these Seattle tech workers spent a day in nature, sitting still and paying attention to the literal real world instead of the virtual one through this act of “forest bathing”.
The act of “forest bathing” all starts by asking participants to find a “sit spot” where they will simply and intentionally sit. There they will rest quietly for an extended time, but while using all of their senses to become aware of the wilderness around them.
What this can then do is create an opportunity to lower stress levels and create better moods, as well as an increase self-esteem, memory, attention, creativity, and physical fitness.
Now the term “forest bathing” may have originated in Japan, but I think our text for today shows the prophet Elijah modeling this act long before because this is exactly what Elijah does when he sits down under a broom tree.
When Elijah finds his “sit spot,” he is feeling discouraged and depressed. He asks that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life.”
And with that, there in that sit spot, with a prayer that cries out to God his Creator, something extraordinary takes place.
As I said, Elijah is stressed—and instead of going harder and faster in hopes that more gets done and the stress will go away—which is often the mode we choose to take… Instead of giving up and accepting defeat by saying “Well that’s life—it stinks and then you die”… Elijah shows us that the answer is not to go more, not to give up, not even to blindly accept—but the answer is to actually stop. Not for forever. Not for a year. It doesn’t even have to be only for a week in the summer—but rather it can be for just a few short moments—but they must be intentional, and they must have as a part of them a particular process.
And Elijah shows us this intentional process by modeling a seven step process, with the first five being—Rest. Eat and Drink. Exercise. Repeat.
Remember what Elijah did…He runs off to the wilderness refuge where he finally falls asleep, then after some time an angel touches him and says, “Get up and eat.” He finds a cake and a jar of water, which he eats and drinks, before again resting, only to then again wake and eat and drink.
Sure we do some version of this all the time, but unlike Elijah our waking and eating often involves running out the door and a dollar menu at a drive thru.
We need to, as the prophet Elijah shows us: Rest. Eat and drink. Get some exercise, which come in the form of his wilderness hiking—all of which we know and so I will spare you that part of the sermon. But there are two more steps to this prophetic process that often we forget about, or worse, like the first ones, we never get to.
The story of Elijah shows us that it’s so important to do them all, but most especially these last two… wait and listen. Wait and listen. We need to wait for God, who does not operate on our time tables. And then we need to listen for what God has to say, or even, for what God has to ask.
Elijah, overwhelmed and stressed, seeks God’s presence through prayer—an act we all can relate to. Elijah then accepts and acts upon the bodily need for rest, sustenance, and exercise—all, again acts we can relate to as we are ever aware of the benefits of them.
But that waiting and listening is hard for us for we are not prone to such anymore. Instead, we are prone to go more, go faster; work more, work harder. We have to get it done because there is more to get done afterwards.
But like Elijah, we need to occasionally find a sit spot because stress is a big part of modern life but it cannot be maintained. We feel routine stress from the pressures of work, family, neighbors and daily tasks; we can be hit by the stress of a sudden change such as losing a job, going through a divorce or struggling with an illness; we can be hit by traumatic stress stemming from a major accident, assault or natural disaster.
All of these stresses, and others like them, all take a toll on us. They can affect our digestive systems and cause headaches, sleeplessness, depression, anger and irritability. All of them rob us of life—physical life, mental life, spiritual life. None of which is what God desires for us.
Fortunately, God gives us a beautiful world in which to take a healing bath. Each of us has the power to walk away from our computers and step out into the world. Each of us can turn off our smartphones and look up at the birds in the trees. Each of us can escape the noise of our demands and listen for the sounds of the natural world.
Each of us can find a sit spot—sure nature is great, but it can be on our front porch, in our cars, even in our own homes—because the setting is less important than the actual focus—an intentional focus to become more deeply aware of God’s presence that surrounds us in each moment of each day.
No it’s not easy, but it is right and good, and it is honoring who God created us to be. But not only is it honoring God, it honors who God made us to be.
God asks Elijah my favorite Godly question, “What are you doing here?”
This is actually a question God is asking us all—“What are you doing here?” Are we here to simply get stuff done? Or are we here for a greater purpose? A purpose of love and joy? A purpose of community and relationship? A purpose of life giving life?
What are we doing here? As children of God, as people of faith, as members of the body of Christ, what are we doing here? It is a question God asks of us all. What is our answer?
Wilderness bathing and finding a sit spot invites us into God’s glory, and recharges us when we feel depleted.
When we rest, eat, drink, exercise, repeat; then wait and listen we will discover that God loves us, God provides for us and God wants us to enjoy true fullness of life. We were not designed to be so stressed out and so overwhelmed that we miss the things and people that matter the most.
Yes we all have jobs and tasks and responsibilities, I won’t dispute that, and will be the first to say that Elijah was in the stressful spot he was in because he was following God’s call. But Elijah discovered in the wilderness, that there are many ways to follow and be faithful to God who is always faithful to us.
Like Elijah, the challenge for us is to be intentional, now and again, and disengage from our technology, leave our behind the demands and busyness of this world, and discover the truth of who we were created to be—a reflection of the divine and not a reflection of those who are consumed by the ways of this world.
So this summer, and in all seasons, let each of us look for an opportunity to unplug and recharge—be it in nature or whatever—but most especially intentionally through: resting, eating, drink, exercising, repeating; then waiting and listening.
For God is not in the strong splitting winds of our rush to get from place to place. God is not in the earthquake of our incomplete to-do lists. God is not in the fires that burn away the minutes and hours of our lives.
Rather God is in the sweetness of that which gives life, always there to give us a gentle reminder of who we are through the pointedness of a Godly question… “What are you doing here?”
Creator God, in the midst of a busy world, we come here now to give you praise for the blessings you pour out, again and again.
And with an awareness of the month and time of year, we praise you for the long days of summer, filled with warmth and light, and even at times filled with clouds and rain.
We praise you for such because it is a season that is a time for the growing—the growing of food and plants that give life. It is a growing season for children who run and play in the beauty of your creation, discovering the wonders of the woods, of lakes and rivers, of broad branches of trees, of bugs and fish and birds and plants.
Holy God, there is an abundance of life that surrounds us, life that flows from you out into your creation so that we are benefactors of more life, of life abundant.
But in an effort to live life, often we miss life.
Too often we miss the chance to take in the beauty of a cool dewy morning or the red amber glow of a sunset. Too often we miss the wonder of a bird’s song or the sound of the wind through the trees. Too often we miss the chance to dangle our toes in slow moving waters, or skip a rock across them. Too often all this and so much more is missed because we have convinced ourselves that other things are more important.
God of life, we pray you help us to see, in our lives, the places where we are missing the life you want for us.
Help us to see them, and then empower us to do something about it, showing us a way that is better—a way that enables us to meet our responsibilities, but still gives us a chance to breath in all the life there is around us.
Help us, as the long days pass, find our playful selves in the midst of this blessed season.
May you hear now the prayers from our hearts offered in this time of Holy Silence.
All this we pray in the name of Jesus, who taught us to pray saying, “Our…”