My favorite Elisha story comes from the Second Book of Kings in chapter 6.
The king or Aram was perturbed because his every plan to attack Israel was thwarted. Evidently some kind of intelligence was warning his enemy where they would strike. Did he have a traitor in his ranks?
Then one of his officers said, “No one, my lord king. It is Elisha, the prophet in Israel, who tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedchamber.” So the king sent horses and chariots and a great army; they came by night, and surrounded the city.
When Elisha’s servant stepped out the door the next morning, he saw the army with horses and chariots was all around the city. He was alarmed and distraught: “Alas, master! What shall we do?”
Elisha’s response was calm and confident: “Do not be afraid, for there are more with us than there are with them.” Then Elisha prayed: “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.”
Elisha prayed for the Aramean army to be struck blind and then he kindly led them “to the man they were seeking” – in fact the king of Israel. When the soldiers came in the heart of the city, Elisha prayed that God would open their eyes. They blinked and found themselves surrounded by their dreaded enemies. They were alarmed and distraught.
But Elisha demanded that the king respond to them in peace. The soldiers were seated at a banquet provided by the king and then sent on their way in peace.
“And thus the Arameans no longer came raiding into the land of Israel.”
I love this story of Elisha who knew something others didn’t know, who saw something others couldn’t see. I love this story of Elisha’s servant receiving God’s gift of open eyes so that he too could see visions of horses and chariots of fire, so that he could peer beyond one reality and into another. I love how this story of Elisha can expand our own vision as we too seek God’s grace to reveal to us what is real, and to show us what we need to see.
Seeing is a grace given to many of God’s thoughtful, humble people. The world is a better place because of their vision of alternative reality to which many more of us are blinded.
On August 20, 2013 Antoinette Tuff faced a would-be shooter at an elementary school outside of Atlanta – and she calmly talked him down. Here was a young man (like too many of our young men) with a history of some mental illness and various run-ins with the law. On this day he was hopeless and wanting to die. When he found a way into the school with an assault rifle, Antoinette was working in the front office. She met him and connected with him and stood right there and talked to him for 24 minutes while the 911 operator listened in.
Antoinette is a gentle, kind and sympathetic woman and when she looked at this angry young man in this very scary situation, she saw something most people would not see: she saw him as a lost and hurting and beloved child of God. And so she offered him compassion and love – something he had seen very little of in his troubled life.
How on earth could she do this? How can a simple elementary school bookkeeper find the courage and the wisdom to sit in a room with a desperate person wielding an assault weapon?
She says she prayed. Well, I guess so!
But I also guess her prayers weren’t only for herself and her safety. Not even only for the students and teachers in that school. She was praying for this young man – praying that his eyes would be opened and his heart would be able to see hope.
Antoinette has her own brokenness and she told him her own story; she told him about the struggles that had caused her to be suicidal some time before. But in the telling of her story, she also shared the hope she had found. My guess is that she was able to be this kind of courageous, hopeful person herself because – in the hard times of her own life, in the resources of her faith – she has figured out how to see God’s presence even in the most terrible of circumstances.
I had never heard of Antoinette Tuff but she is one of my new heroes. She has eyes wide open to the reality of the pain that others suffer; eyes opened to her own call and responsibility to share in that pain and to walk with this young man in him suffering; eyes open to the ever surprising presence and work of God who is always moving for wholeness in this fragmented world.
This kind of hopeful vision is more than “the-glass-is-half-full” kind of positive optimism. Rather it’s a worldview that is able to see what many people cannot see. It’s a way of living and a way of being that truly can see the flower within the bulb; that can somehow know the butterfly even while it is still in the cocoon; that will recognize the dawn there in every darkness.
I’m talking about a way of living, a way of being that stands firm in hope and is grounded in invisible, impossible realities of God’s faithfulness within the world – no matter what. This hopeful vision is an orientation. Not a GPS – global positioning system, but an “EPS” – God’s Eternal Positioning System. It is this orientation that positions us within the solid, absolutely real reality of the Eternal One.
But how do we do this? How do we mortals learn how to see our lives and the lives of others from the perspective of the Eternal?
This story of Elisha teaches us that such vision is a gift from God. “Be still and know that I AM God,” the still small voice whispers.
When we are oriented with God’s EPS then we can be open to God’s presence. We can open our minds to God’s work in the world and open our hearts to the presence of God in the lives of others.
It is this orientation that allows God to open our eyes to new visions of reality; to new possibilities, to new opportunities. And in my experience, when we open ourselves up, that which God may open up to us is very often beyond our imagining, beyond our greatest expectations.
“Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus.”
Like we can Jesus, in the flesh, in the life of Antoinette Tuff. As Erin Wathen blogged: Antoinette is one woman “standing in the void between chaos and grace, somehow being the presence of God in an impossible situation.”
In God’s story, even the bad guy hears the still, small voice of mercy, and is transformed. Jesus shows up in the flesh, every day, in people who are brave enough to tell a better story [than the one the world tells.] (irreverin)
May people who are looking for Jesus find him right here, right now in us – alive and well as one little part of the body of Christ. Loving our adversaries. Offering peace to our persecutors. Preparing a banquet in the presence of our enemies.
May we be the hands and feet and heart of Christ. And may we see the face of Christ in everyone we meet.
Open our eyes Lord.
We want to see.
See here Rev. Erin Wathen’s blog on Antoinette Tuff and gun violence
Words an allusion to the lovely hymn by Natalie Sleeth In the Bulb There is a Flower (Words © 1986 Hope Publishing Company)
Words an allusion to the praise hymn by Robert Cure Open Our Eyes, Lord, We Want to See Jesus (©1976 Maranatha Music)