Elijah and Mary

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In the Carmelite tradition, Elijah and Mary are brought together most closely in the image of the cloud that forms over the sea.

1 Kings 18:42:45

[42] So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Eli'jah went up to the top of Carmel; and he bowed himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees.
[43] And he said to his servant, "Go up now, look toward the sea." And he went up and looked, and said, "There is nothing." And he said, "Go again seven times."
[44] And at the seventh time he said, "Behold, a little cloud like a man's hand is rising out of the sea." And he said, "Go up, say to Ahab, `Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.'"
[45] And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel.

Verse 44 is the relevant verse, and how one gets the image of Mary from that, I do not know, except that when one understands it in the way of the Medieval Carmelites, it is a most beautiful metaphor.

Mary is the cloud that rises out of the sea. The sea is saltwater, undrinkable, a vast body of water, next to which the kingdom can still thirst and die. The sea is salty, impure, an image of fallen humanity with its admixture of sin. Mary rises out of this sea, pure and perfect, laden with the water of grace that will pour out through her to all humanity--not the source of Grace herself, nevertheless the container into which all is poured until it overflows out to all people, limitless, and life-giving. Not God, but human, Mary rises from the sea, pure and Immaculate in her conception, formed as a vessel of God's grace and a place of refuge for His people.

Mary may not have made her appearance in the Old Testament, but through years of meditating and contemplating the story of Elijah, the Carmelite monks and friars came to understand this passage in a Marian sense. In so doing, they enriched the understanding of Scripture and provided another key to its depths.

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Steven Riddle at Flos Carmelli has a post today about Elijah and Mary, speaking of how Carmelite monks and friars have viewed the cloud above the sea as symbolic of Mary, drawn from the story of Elijah in I Kings Read More


This is a very tough one for me. How did they get all of that about Mary? I must say, it is beautiful what they said.

Dear Laura,

It strikes me that this is a very medieval way of thinking. We don't understand the connections they saw because we cannot see as they did. I agree with you--seems tenuous and arbitrary. And yet, when I look at it, how perfectly wonderful it is!

I suppose they must have gotten there through deep prayer, contemplation, and constant reflection on the Elijah story in the Spirit of Mary.

But I agree, it's tough to figure out.



I hae meditated on and pondered this symbol for years, and although a Carmelite, still think it is a stretch, medieval or not.

Thank you Stephen for putting the comment boxes back.
Better to muzzle your own curiosity then muzzle your readers.


I agree with you--it may be a stretch. But it's rather like an inkblot--that you see a butterfly and I see a giant hissing fruitbat is less indicative of the inkblot, which is a source of fruitful ambiguity, than it is of each of us. I don't understand the symbolism, but I do appreciate that it was meaningful to these early Carmelites, and so it becomes valuable to me as part of the heritage of the Order.

But, as you note, it does strain the modern consciousness--whether it did so for the medieval mind would, in fact, require a medieval mind and mode of thinking to judge.



This story had Mt. Carmel in it. So of course the Carmelites would look for Our Lady (of Mt. Carmel) in their story. The Fathers are full of this sort of typology, so it's not surprising that the Carmelites would be. Mary is a forerunner -- the dawn before the Sun of Righteousness -- so she could be represented a forerunner cloud, too.

Besides, if we all lived in the desert and looked forward to rain, we'd have passionate feelings about tiny clouds, too. :)

Thank you Steven. This ia a great explanation for the connection bewteen Elijah, Mary, and Mt. Carmel.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on March 20, 2006 9:58 AM.

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