Fellow Passengers: Today’s Promise Passage* (2 Kings 4:25-37) transports me to the Cold Mountain Penitentiary death row of 1932, aka the Green Mile, where innocent prisoner John Coffey is awaiting execution for the murder of two young girls. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Michael Clarke Duncan played one of the most compelling characters ever to have graced the screen. The 6-foot 8-inch Coffey in his worn out overalls and bare feet turns out to be not a murderer, but a genuine miracle worker, with the ability to bring a healing touch to everything from cancer to urinary track infections, not to mention the ability to revive a dead mouse. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a good movie for the Lenten season. You’ll discover in John Coffey a genuine Christ-figure, embodying sacrificial love and bearing the suffering of the world to the extent that he tells the death row guard who narrates the story, I’m tired of all the pain I feel and hear in the world everyday. There’s too much of it. It’s like pieces of glass in my head all the time.
When I read today’s passage, I couldn’t help but see Michael Clarke Duncan playing the role of the prophet Elisha. I see a 6-foot 8-inch coffee-colored prophet with African features, wearing old overalls and walking barefoot down the road as he is approached by a Shunammite woman in great distress who grabs his calloused feet and won’t let go. The prophet follows the woman to her house and finds her son dead on the couch. The brief story is rich in details that would be difficult even for Stephen King to make up. The prophet goes to the boy and stretches out fully on top of him; it’s revival via full body contact. Mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. And somehow in this theatrical moment that you won’t find re-enacted in too many church dramas, warmth and life flows from Elisha’s body into the boy’s body. And then, as if we needed another quirky detail to add to the strange drama, the resurrected boy reacts to new life by sneezing seven times. I don’t know what it was about new life that tickled the boy’s nose, but I can relate to his sneezing fit. I’ve had them all my life. My granny, who lived with us when I was a kid, had some great reactions to my daily sneezing frenzies. To this day, whenever the rapid fire sneezes come over me, I still can hear her asking me, Do you take spells like that often? Or a simple, Scat! Or my favorite, a response that makes no sense to me, Get your tail out of the gravy.
After reading the passage today, I wonder if I shouldn’t add something new to these memories whenever I take my daily sneezing spell: Maybe I should imagine that a peculiar prophet, or better yet, a strange Savior, has just brought me out of a dead zone – has met me on a spiritual death row and has provided me with the full-body resurrection treatment – His eyes to my eyes, His mouth to my mouth, His nail-scarred hands to my hands. Once re-animated, and once the sneezing is over, I’ll do my best to get on with new life. Ok, that’s a bit strange, but there is something to the idea of the healing quality inherent in physical touch, a quality that our culture has lost, assigning encounters like Elisha and the boy to the uncomfortable realm of inappropriate or perverse. Physical touch was certainly important in Jesus’ ministry, as it was in John Coffey’s healing. On a side note, Coffey’s last request was to watch a “flicker show” (he’d never seen a movie), and in a great scene we see him and the guards watching Fred Astaire dance with Ginger Rogers, singing lyrics that speak to a different kind of life-giving touch: Heaven, I’m in heaven, and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak. And I seem to find the happiness I seek, when we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek. Until I find my way to that dance floor, I’ll be busy getting my tail out of the gravy. And I’ll give bonus points to anyone who remembers the name of the resurrected Green Mile mouse.
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “Matters of Life and Death.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.