Now, where was I with Elijah?
I had often met her at the Companys Gardens in Cape Town on my way to Mass. Somehow we always almost bumped into each other on the stairs towards Iziko art gallery, and spent a few awkward minutes in the alley between it and Tuynhuis, the official presidential residence.
Her quality of stillness always amazed me. I never wanted to intrude with introductions because I usually saw rosary beads in her hand. She evidently liked praying the rosary as she walked through the Gardens. I sometimes do that too, but get too distracted by a tale of life being told by the early-minted sun and blue light of Table Mountains, when not bandaged in mist.
I eventually took the initiative to introduce myself just as we are climbing the steps to St Marys cathedral. She had been ill and her voice was raven-like, though gentle. We finished in time to enter the foyer of the church; other things took over. I collected the newsletter, hymnbook, bought The Southern Cross, and gave her a nodding smile as I proceeded to the pews.
I couldnt concentrate on my prayer. I kept thinking about ravens, those thieves who fed Elijah in the wilderness. Hed fled from Jezebel in fear after exposing the phoney prophets of King Ahab. Years later, Jehu, the spiritual bungler, vanquished Elijahs enemies. Jehu wanted to create heaven on earth by force. The patterns repeated themselves through the Macabbees brethren, and Israel found cause to celebrate Hannukah a dedication of the Macabbees victory over the Seleucid kings. They ate latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganoit (doughnuts).
Jesus, the hoped-for Messiah, came to correct the lost spiritual path of the Jews. The Jews rejected him; he ruffled too many feathers and ended up on the cross. Doubt assailed his discouraged followers. He rose to vindicate the spiritual and departed for heaven. Forty days later, while his apostles were celebrating Shavuot the agricultural festival of grain, and revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai Jesus sent the Spirit that appears in tongues of fire, making the apostles speak in foreign languages.
The Spirit now is no longer the quiet still voice heard by Elijah at the cave opening, but a bold fire that inaugurated the day as Pentecost.
Saul, profoundly read to the level of revelation, received the Spirit of the apostles, and went gallivanting around the world with his innovative brilliance, sowing seeds of Christianity, and calling himself Paul. As a Jew Paul was very concerned with the fate of his people. His final answer from God was that God would bring his people back to recognising their Messiah in his own time and will.
Paul saw in the promise of Jesus coming back a fulfilment of two promises: one ancient to the Jews, another to the Christians. The Jews would get their all-conquering Messiah, Christians their all-judging Lord. But Christ left concerned: if when the Son of Man comes back to earth, will he find any faith?
Such thoughts crowded my mind as I knelt in the pew.
On a subsequent Sunday I asked her out for lunch, in rehearsed casualness. It took her three weeks to accept. She had a friendly and relaxed religious outlook, sparrowish features with neatly moulded lips, and a quiet way of speaking in respectful attendance. When she smiled it seemed the grace of God was in courtesy (Hilaire Belloc) on her face. I thought to myself that I could love her with my soul, but then the thought felt strangely discourteous.
Ive seen you at Mass before, she said, always thoughtful, self-contained, to the point of isolation. I took her proximate candour on the chin. After a few minutes she told me that she was attracted to join a convent. Then I understood my caution.
Now, where was I with Elijah?