Naaman’s Servant Girl
“Grandma.” “Yes, Sarah.” “Mamma told
Me once about how very bold
You were when you were nine or ten,
And how a mob of Syrian men
Stole you away from home at night.
She said there was an awful fight,
And other things you kept inside.
She said someday you might confide
In me and tell me what those years
“Well, Sarah, many fears,
The years had many fears. It’s not
A pleasant tale, and I’ve still got
More scars than people know. Some show.
Some don’t. What makes you ask?” “The glow,
Grandma, the glow around your face.
I’ve heard the grown-ups call it grace.
I call it light. Sometimes it’s bright.
Sometimes it’s soft. It shines at night
Especially when you tuck me in,
And pray with me and kiss my chin.
Grandma, I want to know where you
Learned how to love.” “And, Sarah, do
you think that love grows out of pain?”
“I think it might. Can you explain
It to me, Grandma — how the glow
Is there when you have suffered so?”
“You’re wiser than you know, young lass,
Perhaps this is the time to pass
Along the story how the Lord
Of glory took the wicked sword
Of Syria and lovingly
Healed hate and pride and leprosy.”
“Whose hate, Grandma?” “The hate was mine,
And deep. I used to call them swine.
‘Bout once a year they’d come and raid
A village. We were so afraid!
I learned a lot about the ways
Of wicked men before the days
When they began to look at me.
I knew that Syrians could be
As mean as hungry alley cats,
And dangerous as gutter rats.
They let their lepers roam the streets,
And live at home and handle meats.
And that’s how I would talk — with scorn
For all the suffering we had borne.
And even when Elisha came to town
I’d come and take him by the gown,
And say, ‘Elisha sir, you make
The oil to flow, and dead to wake;
Do you think God can save a man
From Syria?’ ‘I think he can,’
He said, ‘But when he does, the bait
That saves his life will not be hate.’
My mother trusted what he said,
And sometimes she would bow her head
Beside my bed and say that she
Would rather die than hate. But me?
I fell asleep when she was gone,
And dreamed about revenge ’til dawn.
And then it came. They thundered through
The eastern wilderness and slew
The men with swords. I saw your great
Grandfather guard the little gate
Of our small house. It took ten men
To bring my father down. And then
They burned the place. And one of them
Grabbed mother by the hair and hem
And threw her down the open well.
They only wanted kids to sell
For slaves. That’s all. The rest they stabbed
Or chased away. I kicked and bit and jabbed
And broke loose long enough to yell
And knock the bucket down the well.
Then something hit me on the head.
I woke up in a Syrian bed.
For all I knew my mom and dad
Were dead, my village burned. I had
The sinking feeling in my heart
That everything had come apart,
That nothing, Sarah, nothing good
Remained at all…unless I could…”
“Could what, Grandma?” “Could love the way
My mother loved. If God would sway
My heart to love like that, and I
Could say with her, ‘I’d rather die
Than hate,’ then I could keep the best
Of all I’d lost and lose the rest,
And, Sarah, that’s the way it came.
Elisha’s God was still the same:
He made a widow’s cup to flow
With oil, an orphan’s face to glow
With love. So, Sarah, you were right:
Love did grow out of pain that night.
It was a miracle as much
As when Elisha’s holy touch
Raised up the Shunammite.”
What happened? Where’d you go?”
“To make the story short, I went
Up to Damascus. I was sent
To be the servant of the King’s
Command. O, Sarah, what great things
God works for those who love and wait.
Five years, four months, and twenty-eight
Long days I served this moody man.
As arrogant as any can
Imagine, and a leper too.
At last I knew what I must do.
I said, ‘Sir, Naaman, I’m a Jew,
I serve the living God, and you
Serve idols. There’s a prophet in
Samaria who’s old and thin,
But full of power, and he could heal
Your leprosy if you would kneel
Before the living God, or do
Whatever he requires.’ I knew
Another miracle was on
When, next day, Naaman’s troop was gone.
Three weeks I fasted every day,
And when the stars were out I’d pray:
‘O Lord, if you once took away
My hate for Syrian men, then say
The mighty word, and I am sure
That Naaman will come back as pure
In heart as in his skin. And pride
Within will heal like skin outside.’
And, Sarah, Naaman came back clean!
I was a very thin fourteen.
And when he saw me Naaman cried
And said, before his cheeks had dried,
‘Elisha told me I should say:
“God saved a Syrian today.
He drew him with a holy bait
Of love, five years, and not with hate.”
He said that you’d know what he meant.’
‘Elisha knows I’m here?’ ‘God sent
You here, he said. Your work is done,
You may go home.’ ‘I don’t have one.’
‘I think you better trust the man,
He seems to be in on a plan
Somewhat above our fearful thought.’
‘You mean, sir Naaman, that I ought
To leave?’ ‘It didn’t take me long
To learn, Elisha’s word is strong,
And though at first it causes pain,
There follows soon an awesome gain.’
And so they sent me home. I stood
A long time in the nearby wood,
To see if I could recognize
Someone I knew. And then my eyes
Fixed on the spot. The rebuilt place
Was just the same with all the grace
And all the beauty mother used
To make. And suddenly God loosed
A thought: Could mother be alive?
Could all my daughter-hopes revive?
Just then a woman stepped outside
The cottage door, She stooped and tried
To lift a log as I drew near.
And when I knew that she could hear,
I said, ‘You need some help?’ She glanced
Up with a smile: ‘I haven’t danced
With this back since the well. Sure,
Miss, what’s your…Esther? Esther?’
‘It’s me, Mama.’ And mother took
Me in her arms and cried and shook
You wonder, Sarah, where
My love comes from, the glow? Just there:
A woman full of God, who’d die
Before she’d hate. Do you see why
My face should glow when I come in
To pray with you and kiss your chin?
Let’s light a candle now tonight;
Let love burn here with all its might
Light one for her and one for you,
My mother’s name was Sarah, too.