Updated: Sep 15
This week, in one of the haftarah portions associated with parashat Pinchas, we encounter one of the most famous stories of the prophet Elijah. The story has it all: a frustrated prophet, idol worship, an evil queen — and a quest for religious truth. Elijah, perhaps the most elusive and infamous of our prophets looms large in our tradition: with a seat at the table of every B’rit Milah, and an open door invitation to our Passover Seder each year.
But in the story that appears in the Second Book of Kings, we experience Elijah as a zealous and single minded man on a mission.
The story, taking place during the reign of the murderous King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, describes an epic battle between right and wrong– if only it were actually that black and white. Enraged by the idolaters, Elijah kills 450 worshippers of Ba’al. When Queen Jezebel gets wind of this, she vows revenge, and the prophet Elijah, runs, afraid for his life—humbled, scared and alone.
For 40 days and 40 nights, Elijah walks in the wilderness, toward Mt. Horeb, toward the mountain of the Eternal, finally falling asleep in a cave, when God appears to him, and asks him what he’s doing.
Elijah responds with a monologue defending his zealotry: “I am motivated only by my zeal and devotion for you, God” he says. “My fellow Israelites have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed your prophets. I am the only left, and they are going to kill me.” (19:10).
God takes Elijah out of the cave and shows him some miracles: sending first, a mighty wind, splitting mountains and rocks–but, the text tells us, God was not in the wind. Then God creates a forceful earthquake. Again the text specifies that God was not in the earthquake.
וְאַחַ֤ר הָרַ֙עַשׁ֙ אֵ֔שׁ לֹ֥א בָאֵ֖שׁ יְהֹוָ֑ה וְאַחַ֣ר הָאֵ֔שׁ ק֖וֹל דְּמָמָ֥ה דַקָּֽה׃
After the earthquake—fire; but GOD was not in the fire. And after the fire—
Kol d’mama daka: a still, small voice. A soft murmuring sound.
God was not in the big obvious shows of Divine might- not in the fire, nor the earthquake, nor the wind.
God appears to Elijah almost imperceptibly: kol d’mama dakah. A soft murmuring sound. A calm quiet.
I’ve thought about this story quite a lot recently— panning out from the specifics of Elijah’s personal journey, I can’t help but notice the metaphor at play: sometimes, what we’re looking for is in unexpected places. Often, the beauty, the quiet, the stillness, the ease that we seek is not to be found in the big obvious moments, but rather, they come to us like murmurs: whispering to us softly to pay attention.
I read something recently called “A little guide to glimmers”. It read:
Glimmers are the opposite of triggers.
They are tiny moments of awe.
They spark joy and evoke inner calm.
They have a positive effect on our mental health
They send cues of safety to our nervous systems
They bring feelings of ease and contentment.
They allow us to feel hope when we feel lost.
Once we start embracing them, it can become a beautiful way to see the world around you.
Branded as the opposite of triggers, the term “glimmers” was first coined by psychotherapist and author Deb Dana. While the word glimmer — defined as a faint or wavering light — insinuates that these small bits of joy are hard to find, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them kind of moments, in reality, glimmers are all around us. And, while brief, these small fleeting moments can fuse together to create something substantial enough for us to lean into, and feel more at ease in the world.
I love this idea of glimmers: these small quiet noticings that calm our nervous system—- tiny windows to awe, little pathways to God: to remembering that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
It’s easy enough to experience the world around us as filled with triggers: to see all the things that cause our nervous systems to be anxious and fearful. Thinking back to our friend Elijah, there are elements of his story that are not so terribly different from ours. Life under the reign of Ahab and Jezebel was filled with violence and suffering— life in ancient Israel was divided. Us and them. Those who worshipped Baal, and presumably, those who sought a better path, one defined by belief in Adonai, the God of the Children of Israel. As a prophet, Elijah’s task was clear and focused: to reveal the one true God. And at every turn, his mission was thwarted.
It’s not hard to imagine how Elijah might feel: adrenaline pumping, fearful not only for his own life, but for the future of the Jewish people, his whole world. Seeking God, Elijah stands out there on that mountain, and sees that God is not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire.
God is in the still, small voice.
The calm, murmuring sound that is so quiet, you could miss it if you aren’t listening carefully.
God is in the glimmers.
To look for God, to look for ease and comfort and rest in the world is a posture of openness— a willingness to notice the small glimpses that cue our nervous systems to be calm and at ease.
Inspired by this idea of glimmers, I put the question out into the world this week on social media, asking for people to share their glimmers with me.
My kids randomly holding my hand
Jumping into the pool deep end and touching the bottom
The smell of freshly cut grass
The smell of the ocean
Seeing old friends and falling back into a groove as though no time had passed
Spending time at camp
My daughter randomly snuggling with me for 20 minutes
A dog saying goodbye to all the humans at a party
Everysingle morning when my husband wakes up he holds me for a few seconds and says I love you
Fresh cut farm flowers
A granddaughters’ smile
A house whose front lawn is entirely filled by gorgeous flowers
What an amazing list— of ordinary moments and noticings that become extraordinary when we let them be.
The world as it is filled with plenty to trigger our anxieties—- but the world as it could be whispers to us as a kol d’mama dakah— a still, small voice. The world as we dream of it becoming reveals itself to us in faint and wavering glimmers.
Perhaps that is the gift that this Shabbat can offer to each of us: the ability to slow down: to attune our ears to sounds that may be still and small and quiet, to adjust our vision to see even the faint and wavering glimmers of ease, joy, and peace.