Although he appeared more than a dozen times on the David Letterman show, I would imagine that most of us who read this blog are not huge fans of the music of the late Warren Zevon. Maybe I’m wrong! Well, you probably have heard some of his songs, for he was a prolific songwriter. One of his more widely known songs was picked up and redone by the country artist Linda Ronstadt on her Sweet Dreams Album released in 1977. A song that she performed on that album had considerable air time on the radio. The title, taken from the refrain was Poor, Poor Pitiful Me.
It is the national anthem for all who put a great deal of energy into self-pity—a thing which most humans are fairly good at doing. And I am bringing it up this morning because even the prophet Elijah was not immune to it. Over the next several weeks we will be following some of the high points of his biography, and as you will see, there seem to be two continuous refrains. One is: I, only I am left. It is all just up to me. You see, like most of us when we indulge in self-pity, (and who among us does not at one time or another) we are fairly apt to begin thinking in these terms.
So Elijah engaged in self-pity but in the midst of that self-pity, he generally found himself surprised by the presence and the deliverance of God. The intervention of the divine lifted him from that sense of aloneness, what the existentialists used to call radical alienation of one human being from another.
Let me point out that for the most of us, a certain amount of self-pity can be a useful tool for re-evaluating and moving forward. A small amount of it can be valuable in helping us to make different choices and decisions. Self-pity is actually a form of depression and the clinical definition of depression is anger turned inward, upon the self. Taken in small amounts, it can help people move forward. But taken in too great an amount—when it becomes what some people call sitting on the pity pot or throwing a pity party is not healthy. Taken in to great an amount, self-pity kills the spirit and incapacitates, making it impossible for a person to move forward. It becomes more or less like getting the tire of your car stuck in the mud or the snow, where a little gas might have gotten you free from the rut and where too much just causes you to get dug in beyond remedy.
What interests me is that in this morning’s first reading Elijah’s catering to self-pity is the occasion that compels him to do something about it. He might have been seated forever, in the little liturgy of the wringing of his hands about how many people had gone over the worship of the Baals, having abandoned the true God. Because after all, the worship of the Baals was apparently a lot more fun that the worship of the God of Israel; the worship of the Baals was essentially the catering to the sensual pleasures of the self, while the worship of the true God evoked a higher way of being, a more noble ethic.
Elijah’s moment of self-pity was the occasion for him to grow in faith. Does this not suggest to me, and indeed to us all that it is precisely where we are stuck in self-pity, it is not the occasion to wallow in it, but rather to grow out of it through the gift of faith?
Hopefully, it is as we are in Jesus Christ we get over the refrain, “Poor Poor pitiful, me, Lord have mercy on me, W O E is me.” Because the gift of Jesus is that hope always replaces self-pity, and the way that we get there is by stepping out in faith and in trust.