Tumbling in the Sand
“But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.” – 2 Kings 2:12b
So, the story goes that Elisha was plowing his field and the prophet Elijah came along and threw his mantle (a loose sleeveless garment worn over other clothes (a cloak) also a figurative cloak symbolizing preeminence or authority) over Elisha’s shoulders and Elijah kept walking. Elisha ran after him and after a giant goodbye party involving cooking up a massive stew of ox meat and burning Elisha’s plow, Elijah became Elisha’s teacher, lord, rabbi, mentor, and friend.
There is actually little further in the scripture about their relationship with each other until we get to this story about Elijah’s departure; but, from this story it seems to be that Elisha loved Elijah very much and the two had grown quite close. First of all, Elisha would not leave Elijah’s side. Secondly, Elisha knew what was happening to Elijah even though it appears Elijah never told him what was happening (those in really close relationships often know about each other without speaking). And thirdly, here, Elisha mourned when Elijah was taken away in the whirlwind—and more than mourned, “tore his clothes with agony” mourned. That’s pretty intense.
Though, it wasn’t like Elijah had died: he’d been taken directly to God in a whirlwind and a chariot of fire. Pretty impressive. And pretty good for Elijah, really. To not have to die? Nice. And it’s not like Elisha got a bad deal out of this: he was given a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. You thought Elijah was a powerful prophet? Well here comes Elisha! (Interestingly, Elisha was much less fiery than Elijah was, which was probably good for all sorts of people.) Besides that, Elisha could not take his place as the lead prophet in Israel until Elijah was gone: that’s kind of the way it goes with this whole succession thing.
But Elisha mourned. He would have rather had his teacher than all the power in the world. He would have rather had what was than what was to be. I get that. I think that is healthy and reasonable and good. I especially think it is good to mourn when we lose people, things, and self-purpose that we loved.
Actually, I can’t imagine not doing that! How horrible it would be if we could not weep for what has been and gone? How inhuman would it be if we could not cry over what is gone and missed in our lives?
The only problem is when we won’t let go at all. When we refuse to move on. When we try to cling to what was as though life were some sort of static thing that shouldn’t ever change. We quickly forget that God is found in our endings and beginnings, that the creation and ending of things are holy because God is at those moments and revealed in those moments. We forget that until we stop clinging as though it belonged to us, we can’t really open our hands to what God wants to give us next.
Elisha did let go after he mourned. After he mourned, he took the mantle, parted the Jordan, crossed back and went on with the ministry he’d been called to do. He did not look back, but moved forward in faith that Elijah’s spirit was with him and that God was with him.
Would that we be so courageous to do the same.
Featured image from “Elijah and Elisha” by Ronni (it’s just a piece of the whole thing). Check out her beautiful work here: http://www.ronni.co.il/index.htm