St. Elijah and Contemplating the Face of God

There he came to a cave, where he took shelter. Then the Lord said: “Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord willl be passing by.” A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord–but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake–but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire–but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went and stood at the entrance of the cave. A voice said to him, “Elijah, why are you here?” He replied, “I have been most jealous for the Lord, the God of Hosts.” (1 Kings 19)

Fixing our eyes on God

Pope St. Gregory explains why Elijah is described as standing at the mouth of the cave (“where we direct our mental gaze, there we may be said to stand.”) and veiling his face when he heard the voice of the Lord speaking to him: “…as soon as the voice of heavenly understanding enters the mind through the grace of contemplation, the whole man is no longer within the cave, for his soul is no longer taken up with matters of the flesh: intent on leaving the bounds of mortality, he stands at the cave’s mouth.”

Humility and Detachment – the keys to contemplation

“But if a man stands at the mouth of the cave and hears the word of God with his heart’s ear, he must veil his face. For when heavenly grace leads us to the understanding of higher things, the rarer the heights to which we are raised, the more we should abase ourselves in our own estimation by humility: we must not try to know ‘more than is fitting; we must know as it befits us to know.’ Otherwise, through over-familiarity with the invisible, we wish going astray; and we might perhaps look for material light in what is immaterial. For to cover the face while listening with the ear means hearing with our mind the voice of Him who is within us, yet averting the eyes of the heart from every bodily appearance. If we do this, there will be no risk of our spirit interpreting as something corporeal that which is everywhere in its entirety and everywhere  uncircumscribed…while our feet stand within the walls of His holy Church, let us keep our eyes turned toward the door; let us mentally turn our backs on the corruption of this temporal life; let us keep our hearts facing toward the freedom of our heavenly fatherland.”

Almighty, ever-living God, your prophet Elijah, our Father, lived always in your presence and was jealous for the honor due to your name. May we, your servants, always seek your Face and bear witness to your love. We ask this through our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.