I overlooked a small detail in the Elijah story. It’s right after God’s fire comes down from Heaven in glorious proof that He is God. Right after Jezebel threatens Elijah’s life and he runs away exhausted, ready to be done with all this prophet business. It’s a small and obvious detail I overlooked and it changes the story for me. After an angel feeds him and lets him rest, Elijah travels to a mountain called Horeb. I should get it when it’s described as the mountain of God, but I didn’t realize we’ve been to this mountain before in the Bible story. I thought he went to some random mountain. I didn’t realize Elijah purposely travels to this mountain also called Mt. Sinai—where God's presence has been before—without food or water for 40 days. He went looking for God. I always thought he was just running away, going where the angel directed him. But his journey is more purposeful. He's seeking out God's presence. Maybe hoping God will sweep him up to Heaven on arrival. But going toward God nonetheless.
It's the little details that can drive a story. It's the nuance. While sweeping narrative arcs and plot turns are attractive and desired, it's the details that matter, especially little ones—like the name of a mountain.
This is true of our everyday language. One word can reshape our narrative and drive us to new and unexpected places: personally and collectively. Words like justice, joy, hope, peace, and forgiveness.
We can go toward those themes but we have to name them, we have to say them out loud. They can't be generalized, clichéd trivialities. They can't always be implied. They must exist on our tongues and lips. They need to beat in our hearts and roll out of our mouths. We have to fill the words with our literal breath.
At a recent worship service I listened to a grandmother and her seven-year-old granddaughter sing the lyrics:
And on that day when my strength is failing The end draws near and my time has come Still my soul will sing Your praise unending Ten thousand years and then forevermore
The stark difference between the voices caught my ear. The fervent, raspy older voice compared to the gawky sweetness of the child singing about death and eternity, things beyond her understanding, but not beyond her imagination.
The small details of the lyrics took us somewhere far away. A place of mystery filled with words and words pronouncing mystery. Let's name that mountain in our stories, poems, our everyday language, our songs, and in our lives. We might not understand the magnitude of it all or know what will happen when we arrive, but those small details can connect generations and direct our hearts toward Mt. Sinai.