Part of me feels sorry for Elisha. Like a younger brother easily overlooked because of an older brother’s accomplishments, Elisha seems in the background because of Elijah. Even the opening prayer for his memorial says “O God…you have bestowed the spirit of Elijah on your prophet Elisha…” Even among the Carmelites, Elisha did not receive serious attention until the 20thcentury. Yet, examining his life in the Old Testament, a person can be overwhelmed by all he did and the message he leaves for the contemporary believer.
Once called by Elijah, Elisha makes a dramatic break from his family when he slaughters the oxen he was using to plow a field and use the yoke as fuel to prepare a meal for the people before becoming Elijah’s attendant. Nothing is recorded about those early years as he accompanies Elijah. Aware that the prophet will soon be taken from him, Elisha makes a bold request of a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Even the prophet seems taken aback by the request. When he witnesses Elijah taken from him a fiery chariot, his request is granted.
Elisha uses that gift well for the glory of God and the good of the people of Israel. He works more miracles than Elijah that respond to the needs of the people, whether purifying polluted water, feeding the hungry, curing a pagan leper, and even restoring a child to life. He lives in the cities and is easily accessible to the people. But he is also passionately concerned about his nation, Israel. His role as prophet, from 850-800 B.C. covers the reign of four kings. His concern, like Elijah, was restoring a nation to the one true God. He lives well the meaning of his name “God is my salvation.”
With all the action and dedication to God and using well the gift of a “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit, there is a strange silence among Carmelites to Elisha. In the early 1300’s, there was an attempt to retrieve his scattered relics. By 1399, Elisha was inserted into the calendar of saints of the Order. But very little, if anything, was written about him. Elijah, the “older brother,” was the focus of attention. But that changed in the early part of the twentieth century. More attention was paid to his request of a double portion and what that gift might be for the contemporary Carmelite. Titus Brandsma felt that gift had a three-fold sense:
- A willingness to receive the gift and live it responsibly.
- It was a combination of contemplation and apostolic works, though contemplation was the higher gift.
- It was the union “of the human exercise of virtue and the divine infusion of the mystical life.”
Elisha was present to God. He made himself available and vulnerable to His word and will. He was still and waited upon God. Those are all elements of contemplation, which is simply being with God and taking Him into life. But being present and vulnerable to God also means being present and vulnerable to His people, no matter what their need might be. Reading of the miracles that occurred through Elijah shows Elisha living well the double portion he requested from Elijah. And there is the challenge he leaves for the modern individual of living the double portion not only in the exceptional moments with a limited number of people, but to live it, as he did, in the midst of all people. It is there that God dwells and is present. It is there that He can only be recognized with the eyes of faith and ears open with anticipation of His living word.