The Mysterious Tale of How I Shouted “Wrong-Eyed Jesus!”
A true story by Jim White.
Thanks to Jim White for this post (Luaka Bop © 1997 Warner Bros.)
About twenty minutes of stumbling along in that darkness later I heard another car coming. At first I was going to play it safe and hide again, but then I figured the hell with this, I’d take my chances. I put my thumb out and thankfully one of those old Dodges, the kind with the push-button transmissions instead of a gearshift, braked a few feet past me.
As I jogged up to it I was relieved to see it was a hippie car. It had peace symbols painted on it and psychedelic designs done all haywire on the side panels. I leaned in the window and checked out the driver. He wasn’t much older than me, with a shock of wild hair going every which way and a friendly enough looking face. I said where I was headed and he told me to come on with him as he was on his way to the Navy yard.
By reflex I’d opened the door but only got about halfway in before some inner defense mechanism just froze me up and wouldn’t let me go any further. It took me a second to realize why—his story was identical to the dirt farmer’s. I guess I must’ve been stuck there longer than I thought because I remember hearing the hippie asking me a couple of times if I was okay before I snapped to, finding myself shivering so from head to toe that I had to steady myself on the open door. I looked around, trying to orient myself, and saw two freshly painted signs in the back seat that said “Swamp Tours” on them with a local phone number. The hippie must have noticed my confusion, because he explained that he was a sign painter by trade, and I could see in his face that he meant me no harm.
He push-buttoned the Dart into drive and we rolled for some distance without saying so much as a word. For a while I tried to honor the hush of his mood, but I was so charged up with survival energy that I finally just blurted out about the dirt farmer and how he’d tried to kidnap me. This got the hippie’s attention and when he asked what had happened, I just told him I’d defended myself with the words “Wrong-eyed Jesus!”
I purposefully said it kind of flip, then tried to laugh it off afterwards, but it didn’t work. Instead the words ”Wrong-eyed Jesus!” just sort of hung there in the air between us like a coil of smoke in a still, dark room and I could see that he was watching them just the same as I was. He asked me how those words had saved me, so I gave him the whole story: “seeing through” to the missionaries’ sermon about the miracle rescue, the flawed portrait and how I’d added “wrong-eyed” to those church people’s chant in my vision and how it had probably saved my life.
The further I got into the story, the more this absent look consumed the quality of his attentions. Simultaneously the car began slowing down. It was almost as if the power of the story and the accelerator of the car were somehow inversely connected to one another, so that by the time I got to the screwdriver in the door part the Dodge had creaked to a dead halt in the middle of the highway. He push-buttoned the transmission into park and hunched over the steering wheel and then I saw why he’d stopped. He was crying. Weeping in fact. Tears of some terrible, terrible loss.
In this lonely, far-off voice like he was talking more to hisself than to me he recounted how a few hours earlier his father had dropped by the sign painting shop and found the hippie smoking’ a joint in the back room. He’d erupted in a fit of anger, threatening to turn his son in to the police. The hippie had told him to drop dead. The father stormed out of the shop and drove away. A little while later the old man showed up at the hospital complaining of terrible chest pains and proceeded to expire right there in the nurse’s arms. Some sort of massive heart attack the doctor had said.
So the hippie believed himself to be some sort of nebulous murderer. Now he was on his way to the V.A. hospital to claim that temporal collection of flesh and bone which was no longer the vehicle of his father’s spirit. He knew it couldn’t listen,
couldn’t hear if he tried to say good-bye or that he was sorry for those hard words tossed off in the heat of the battle, and knowing this just broke his heart.
He told me that just a few miles back he’d been overcome by a wave of regret and had stopped the car right in the middle of the deserted highway, probably just about the same spot where the dirt farmer had put me out, and for the first time in years he’d prayed, asking Jesus why these things had come to pass. Then, almost as if someone was speaking aloud to him, he’d heard a sweet comforting voice telling him there was a purpose to all things, and that he would understand Jesus’ plan soon enough. Then just a few miles further down the road that “soon enough” had arrived in the form of myself-a muddy, scared kid stranded on a lonely highway.
There were the hazy lights of revelation and redemption building in his eyes as he explained to me that he understood now why his father had died and why the dirt farmer had been allowed to try to kidnap me. It was because Jesus loved us both, for He had allowed these dark events to transpire as an urgent message to us that we should that very minute give our hearts over to Him. He asked me if I would pray with him.
Have you ever found yourself being swept down some mighty and invisible river in a vessel whose form is beyond your power of comprehension? If you have, did you see how there was no purpose in fighting it? I bowed my head with that hippie who thought he’d killed his father, and right there in the middle of the highway we opened up our hearts to Jesus and began to dance that calcified of repentance for that audience of saints and angels up there in heaven. Since neither of us was much steeped in the mechanics of religious behavior, after a short time we stumbled to a halt, watching in an awkward and powerless silence as that delicate atmosphere passed us by, then vanished without a trace like a summer storm passing a ship far out in the ocean. Once the air had cleared, the hippie push-buttoned the Dodge into drive and we rolled away.
As I remember, very few words passed between us the rest of the way as I showed him where I lived. He dropped me right at my doorstep, and I thanked him for the ride home. He took my hand and reminded me that Jesus had a plan for us and that surpassed the woes of this world. He asked me to pray for him, then went off to face those hard duties waiting for him at the V.A. hospital.
The lights at my house were off, although I could hear my mother singing somewhere in the darkness. I ducked into my room and lay on my bed for a while wondering about the peculiar economies of the spirit world, how Jesus had sent a wicked man to terrorize me so that I might understand the nature of divine love. But if Jesus could control the actions of the wicked, why did He not simply save their souls? It was all spinning around in my head. Finally the sweet sound of my mother’s voice carried me far away into the refuge of dreams.
It was there that I found myself back at the tent revival, staring at the portrait of the
Wrong-Eyed Jesus. It was testimony time, so I stood up and told the congregation about how the missionary lady had gotten the eyes completely wrong. I expected they’d condemn me, call me a heretic and cast me out like demons from the herd of swine, but surprisingly everyone agreed I was right. The missionaries thanked me for my testimony and then offered me the chance to come up there on the stage and fix those eyes.
I strode up the center aisle with paintbrush in hand, but the moment I set to work, I found both myself and the painting flying into the sky at an incredible velocity. The earth became a tiny speck below as I began working on those eyes, but every time I’d finally get them almost right, the Jesus in the portrait would wink at me and then undo all my hard work, so that I spent that night of dreams rocketing to the distant corners of space, failing over and over to affix upon the face of Jesus eyes of a singular and sincere expression, an expression that apparently seemed not much to His liking.
The dream stayed with me when I woke up the next morning, and so I took up a pencil and some paper and made my first attempt at drawing a proper Jesus. I started with the eyes and of course immediately got them all wrong, so I erased them and started over and got them all wrong again. I went on to the rest of the drawing and things went well enough, the hands and robes and what have you, but for days after that each time I returned to the eyes I’d draw them wrong, then have to erase. Finally, with my incessant drawing and erasing, I ruined the picture by rubbing two ragged holes in the paper where the eyes should have been. At that point I surrendered my pencil in defeat.
From time to time I attempt another picture of Jesus, but it’s no use. Even portraits by so-called famous artists now seem to me to be completely wrong-eyed and I begin to wonder what sort of human effort could possibly truly represent those objects in
Jesus’ head which view the world in accepting silence as some are saved and sent off to heaven while others are swept away to the supposed infernal fires of eternal hell. Recently I came upon that original drawing, forgotten in a box of junk marked “religious souvenirs” and perhaps because I had not expected to see it there and so was vulnerable to the world beyond the world just for a moment, somehow, those ragged eye-holes looked absolutely right. I felt an odd Sensation of terror, then turned my head away, telling myself it was a lie, for there is but one Jesus, and I must defend the small comfort I take in knowing His eyes will be forever wrong.
Long live Wrong-Eyed Jesus! Do you know what I mean when I say that?