Saturday, December 15, 2007


His Holiness Pope Shenuda III
Head of the Egyptian Coptic Church

"How amazing that sin cost Jonah both money and effort; he paid the fare for the journey to accomplish his sin. As for grace, we obtain it free. It is amazing that we toil for our own hurt, expending money and effort. Perhaps it would have been a blessing to Jonah if he had not the money at the time to help him travel and disobey. When Jonah paid the fare of the ship, he suffered a double loss. He lost his money, his obedience and purity of heart." On Jonah H H Shenuda III

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

We Want The Way Easy

"Arm-plug" by Philip Straub

We live in an "instant" culture where everything is expected to be easy, fast, and convenient. The more we have the more we expect. In a never ending cycle we are over-stimulated and over-whelmed with facts figures and fantasies. A teacher of mine, the late Rabbi Edwin Friedman, used to say that in the late 20th century, "Data was a form of substance abuse."

What does this have to do with Jonah? The part of the story that everyone remembers is that Jonah is swallowed by a fish/whale. Why? Why did God do this? Why three days? Someone has said that the smelly interior of the fish was Jonah's "timeout room". Time out -- a place to pull yourself together and prepare to take your act on the road. If you never knew that you had a problem (namely yourself) repentance and amendment of life couldn't take place. It is only when Jonah is up to his neck in seaweed and fish juice that he "gets it".

God created human beings radically free. He wants us to mature. Maturity comes by facing challenge not by plugging into some instant relief. So life is a laboratory and we do not have to get it right every time but we do have to keep trying. As the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous puts it, "it's about progress not perfection". We will not get it right every time but how quickly can we recover and continue on the way. Such leads to maturity if we are willing to learn from our experience. Such learning can lead to wisdom.

Nuke'em God

"Reckoning Day" Philip Straub

Jonah didn't want Nineveh to repent. In fact he wanted God to destroy the place and indeed the Assyrians had it coming. When he finally arrived on God's errand to preach destruction to the capital of the Assyrian Empire he went a day's journey into the city saying, "Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!" I assume that he retreated in like fashion thus spending two days gleefully (I suspect) breaking the good news to the Assyrians. On every corner he memorized the buildings imagining their condition in just over a month. Just how God would accomplish this destruction had not been revealed but fire would be good. Imaging the palaces, temples and grand homes in flames with the very people responsible for the torching of countless homes and cities in the Ancient Near East fleeing in panic was delicious. But it all was not to be.

Those guilty as sin Assyrians repented, would you believe it? They escaped like cockroaches under a door. For the first time in record a prophet of YHWH was totally successful and Jonah was not pleased with with his sucess. He would have been much happier with Nineveh being Nuked. Fortunately, the God of Israel is not like Jonah.

Medieval Exegesis

Saint Thomas Aquinas

Scholars of the Middle Ages saw Scripture in a four layered interpretation. The four senses of scripture it is sometimes called. Saint Thomas developed this way of interpretation to a high art. Of late I find that I am going back to the Church Fathers to learn how they handled scripture. Why? Because I find the two extremes in the Church at present to be unsatisfying and frankly barren. Jonah is a good example. A good literalist would bog down in a discussion as to the type of whale that could have swallowed Jonah (the text clearly has it as a great fish) with speculation of how one could live in the innards of a sea creature and so forth. On the other end the historical critical method would simply say that the entire book had no historical basis and could safely be dismissed as irrelevant. A pox on both their schools.

Check the link above for an excellent short presentation on another way of looking at, learning from and taking nourishment thereof the Holy Scripture. JWS

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Prophet Ynus

Mosque of the Prophet Jonah -- Al Mawsil, Iraq

Jonah is found not only in the Bible but also in the Koran. It is interesting to compare. Check this link to a Muslim education site that tells the story of the prophet Ynus (as Jonah is known in Arabic).

The three religions of the book who mark Abraham as their spiritual father and remember the same stories as instructional must now graple with what that means. This is not new territory for Christians and Jews. In America we have lived together for a very long time. The history of the two is not one to be proud. Christians have behaved badly. Now the third point makes a triangle. This is a new experience for Christians to relate to Muslims at least in Memphis. There is a lot of ignorance to go around. We do have some stories in common. That is a place to start. It does not mean that the faiths are interchangeable. They are not, anymore than Judaism is with Christianity.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Table Fellowship

Icon of Jonah Story

Jonah is one of the stories that Judaism, Christianity and Islam have in common. I found a fascinating conversation about Jonah in the three traditions. Check it out. It is a bit dense but is a good example of table conversation and study which is a great tradition common to all three religions of the book.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Saint Isaac of Nineveh

Icon of Saint Isaac of Nineveh

Words & Prayers of St. Isaac the Syrian, Bishop of Nineveh

Let yourself be persecuted, but do not persecute others. Be crucified, but do not crucify others. Be slandered, but do not slander others. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep: such is the sign of purity. Suffer with the sick. Be afflicted with sinners. Exult with those who repent. Be the friend of all, but in your spirit remain alone. Be a partaker of the sufferings of all, but keep your body distant from all. Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even those who live very wickedly. Spread your cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them. And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept punishment in their place, do not destroy their character.

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns with without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.

The person who is genuinely charitable not only gives charity out of his own possessions, but gladly tolerates injustice from others and forgives them. Whoever lays down his soul for his brother acts generously, rather than the person who demonstrates his generosity by his gifts.

God is not One who requites evil, but who sets evil right. Paradise is the love of God, wherein is the enjoyment of all blessedness. The person who lives in love reaps the fruit of life from God, and while yet in this world, even now breathes the air of the resurrection.

In love did God bring the world into existence; in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of the One who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised.
Saint Isaac was an Assyrian Christian who died around the year 700 AD. He is remembered best for his writing which is characterized by a sweetness of spirit and extravagant scope for the love required of a Christian. You will note in the text above that even the demons are not exempt from Isaac's concern. He seems to have caught the "mercy bug" from the encounter between YHWH and his bitter prophet Jonah a thousand years earlier near the city where he was bishop for five months. JWS

Friday, May 11, 2007

Jonah, Part 3

"Jonah Reclining beneath the Goard Vine" from the Jonah Marbles
Cleveland Museum of Art

By John Piper December 13, 1998

Hosea's father let the boy
Return to Jonah's place. The joy
The lad brought home was so much more
Than he had ever shown before,
His father felt he couldn't hold
Him back. It's good to be consoled,
He thought, by what the prophet speaks,
Since it had only been six weeks
Since Hoshee's mother left them for
Another man. The boy lay on the floor
Of their small house and wept for days,
And then would sit outside, and gaze
Across the Sea of Chinnereth
Into a sorrow worse than death.
That other man had traveled through
Gath-Hepher many times to do
His business on the coast, and then
Return to somewhere eastward, when
His work was done. And he would stay
The night just down the lane, and prey
On women with their water jars,
And leave behind him life-long scars.
And then one day his mom was gone.
A neighbor said, "To see the dawn
Of life and not the sunset of
A tanner's wife." Hosea's love
Was shattered into pieces now,
And Beeri hugged his son, somehow
If possible, to prove that he
Was loved with bonds of loyalty
Beyond his mother's wanderings.
For weeks, there were no common things
That held his interest. But then
He found his way, with older men,
To Jonah's garden on the hill.
And there he heard the stories fill
The prophet's mouth, and tasted grace
Again, and learned that on its face,
It may not be a lovely thing,
Or light, but may oblige the sting
Of death, but in the end is good,
And turns the tendrils into wood.
And if it must, will scorch with fire
The hateful part of our desire.

"You said, sir, that if I came back
Tonight, you'd take me from the shack
Near Joppa by the sea, and show
Me what God did to make you know
And love his ways. And so I'm back,
And I would love to trace the track
You followed from the fish's mouth
Near Joppa on the beach down south,
To Nineveh, and how you came
Back here a diff'rent man."

"The fame
That I will have, young man, in years
To come, will not be for my tears
Of sorrow over how much pain
It took to purge the ugly stain
Of hate out of my callous soul.
I am a different man. The bowl
Of wrath I would have poured on that
Great city, God did make a vat
Of boiling mercy for my sin,
And cast me into it. And in
That fierce and cleansing clemency,
At last, did make me feel and see
His ways, which are as high above
My own as is the flying dove
Above the crawling snake. But I,
Perhaps like Moses on Mount Nebo high,
Will be remembered for a slow
And stubborn heart, and I will go
Down into history still hard
And murmuring at grace, and marred
With bitterness, in spite of all
God's sweet affliction of my gall."

"What more affliction, Jonah, than
The belly of a fish? No man
Can live after he dies, can he,
And not be purified and free?
God saved you from the death of your
Defiance. Was it not the cure
Of your hostility?" "I said
Last night that, though I once was dead,
And then I lived again, one death
Was not enough. And though my breath,
And everything, was grace, my heart
Was like a stone in that one part
Where should have been a love for the
Assyrians. God had to be,
Therefore, my enemy again,
And war against my evil when
I got to Nineveh." "But why,
If you were bad, did you comply
When God said go? Was that not good?"
"Hosea, doing what you should
Is more than outward form. God sent
Me there to preach, and so I went,
Afraid, this time to run away.
But every time I said, 'The Day
Of God is near, repent,' I thought,
'Almighty God knows why he brought
Me here, and so do I. The Lord
Is slow to anger now. The sword
Will not be drawn. And he is full
Of steadfast love, and makes like wool
The scarlet sin of all he smites
With mercy, even of the Ninevites.'
And that is what he did." "You mean
That they repented, Jonah?" "Clean
From top to bottom: from the slave
Up to the king. They even gave
Their beasts no food, and everyone
Obeyed the king who said, 'Be done
With violence, and cry to God;
He may relent and spare his rod
Of wrath that we might live.'

"You know,
My son, he did just that. And so
The bowl of wrath that I held in
My heart, and ready to begin
The judgment, simmered there, unspent,
With rage that my God should repent,
And even turn on me." "How did
He turn on you?" "I left, and rid
Myself of every residue
Of dust, and waited there to view
From eastern hills what would befall
The city. There God made a tall
And leafy plant grow over me
To give me shade." "And you could see
It grow up in a day?" "It grew
Up in a single night." "Did you
Feel safe?" "About as safe as in
A ship upon a sea of sin,
And bound from Joppa to the west.
It was a poor and fleeting rest.
There are no giant fish outside
Of Nineveh to eat the pride
Of prophets in their ease, but there
Are worms and wind, and when and where
He please, God orders them and makes
Them do his bidding. If he takes
No pleasure in my callous mind
And heart, then there will be assigned
A worm, and so there was, to slay
The leafy plant and take away
My shade. And then he blasted me
With sultry wind until with three
Small words I cursed the brazen sky:
And spoke to heaven, 'Let me die!'
"And God said, 'Jonah, are you mad
About the plant? Do you feel bad
That it is dead? It came up in
A single night, in spite of sin.
You did not labor here, or make
It grow, nor was it for your sake.
But this great city that you hate,
This Nineveh, I did create,
And I have made it grow along
The Tigris River here, and strong,
To do what it was meant to do,
Before there ever was a Jew.
And should I not take pity now
On twelve ten thousands with a vow
To leave their sin, and trust in me?
And if you have no sympathy
For these, perhaps your feeling yields
To all the cattle in the fields.'"

"What happened then?" the boy inquired.
"I sat till forty days expired,
My testing in the wilderness.
And day by day I watched God bless
A pagan people by his grace.
And every day I touched my face,
And ran my finger on this scar
And felt with shameful fire: how far
I'd fallen from the mercy that
It meant.

And when the days were at
An end, I heard a mighty shout
From in the city gates, and out
They came, ten thousand with the blast
Of trumpets, dancing like a vast
And rolling sea, with branches in
Their hands, and singing how they'd been
Delivered from the wrath to come.
They sang with harp and lyre and drum,
'In darkness for a thousand years,
And slaves to violence and fears,
No hope beyond this world of tears,
And then a man of hope appears,
A prophet with a scar-drawn face
A sign of life, and proof of grace.'
They put me on a pallet high
And made procession with a cry:
'The God of Jonah is our God;
The God of Jonah spared the rod;
The God of Jonah rules the sky;
The God of Jonah heard our cry.'
They carried me before the king,
Who bowed to me and said, 'One thing
I wish to say before you leave.'
He lifted up his royal sleeve,
And with his hand he touched my face,
And said, 'I know the price of grace,
And what it cost for you to bring
Salvation to a foreign king.
And even though you may not yet
Love me, I ask that you would let
Me now give thanks for what you are.'
And then he stood, and kissed my scar.
That was the moment, son, when I
Became a different man."

The sky
Above Gath-Hepher now was spread
With stars, the boy had put his head
In Jonah's lap from weariness.
The prophet lay his hand to bless
The boy. "I'm not asleep," he said.
And when he lifted up his head,
The tears ran down his face. "Someday,"
He said, "I want to be the way
You are."

"I pray, Hosea, when
The day arrives, and you are then
Put to the test, it will not be
As hard and long for you to see
The truth, as it was once for me.
A prophet loves his enemy
Or dies. His life is not his own;
By us the ways of God are known:
With fish and worms and wind and wives
God writes his ways across our lives.
Good night, young man, go home and dwell,
And watch your faithful father well."

Now feel the heat of candle three,
And let the brightness help you see
The purifying flame of grace.
And learn again that on its face,
It may not be a lovely thing,
And may oblige the loss and sting
Of death, but in the end is good,
And turns the tendrils into wood,
And if it must, will cut with fire
The hateful part of our desire,
Then put away the white hot blade,
And kiss the wound that it has made.

© Desiring God

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 1,000 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be explicitly approved by Desiring God.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: Email: Toll Free: 1.888.346.4700.

Jonah, Part 2

"Jonah" from the Pennyroyal Bible by Barry Moser

By John Piper December 6, 1998

The first to gather, as the sun
Went down next afternoon, was one
Brave lad who hadn't learned the tales
Of Jonah's life. For him, like scales
Fresh falling from his eyes, were all
The words of Jonah's mouth. So small,
He thought, was his young mind that he
Might miss the truth and lose the key
To life. And so, as others sat
In Jonah's fruitful garden at
The prophet's feet, and waited for
His word to fall, this lad was more
Aggressive than them all. "May I
Please ask, sir, that you clarify.
I didn't understand last night
Quite what you said. I think I might
Have heard you wrong." "How so, young man?"
The prophet asked. "Because, I can
Imagine being swallowed by
A giant fish, and thus to die,
But you said that the mouth of death
Was your escape. And here, with breath
And life, you sit before us now,
And I don't understand yet, how
It came to be that you could live.
So I would love to hear you give
The story how you got from in
The giant fish's mouth, to win
The men of Nineveh for God."
The prophet smiled, "It does seem odd
That one grave's open mouth should save
Me from another's dread. A wave
To drown would seem a better wish,
Than being eaten by a fish.
And yet the path to life is strange,
And none can know the kind, or range
Of deaths that one must die along
The way that leads to life. The song
That satisfies the human soul,
When nothing tender can console,
Is learned beside the grave, or from
Within. And knowing both, I've come
To see how little difference
There is between the two, and whence
Bewilderment upon your face,
Which has not wept in either place,
Because you are so young. But I
Will try to tell you how the cry
Of my engulfed and dying soul
Was taken, like a burning coal
From off the altar at the seat
Of God, and made into a sweet
Aroma there before his face,
And how it then unleashed a grace
More mighty and more strange
Than you could ever dream: to change
A great man-eating fish, some three
And forty cubits long, to be
A saving sepulchre to me."

"But, Jonah, how did you get free?
You said last night, the mouth of death
Was your escape. But what of breath?
How did you breathe? And you said it
Was three days in the acid pit
Of that great fish, with no light, I
Assume, from sun or moon or by
A manmade lamp. Then how did you
Discern the passing of those few
Dark days, to know that it was three?
How could you live or count or see?
And even know the fish's length?"

"Young man, you have a certain strength
Of mind, I think is rare. What is
Your name?" "I'm sorry if I quiz
You disrespectfully. By all
That lies within me, sir, I call
To witness heaven here, that I
Count you, beneath the great blue sky,
The greatest man on earth." "Well, there
Is something greater, son, beware,
Than Jonah in this world. Now what's
Your name?" "My name's Hosea. Lots
Of people call me Hoshee." "What
Do you prefer?" "The one I got
When I was born." "Me too. Some day
You're going to fill that name the way
I filled the belly of a fish.
And, O, Hosea, I could wish
That I were there to see the weight
Of love you'll carry in that great
And awful mission you will get."
The old man wasn't smiling. Yet
The boy felt very loved. And then
The prophet said, "Hosea, when
You hear my story now, don't miss
The truth for you in all of this:
A prophet's life is not his own;
Not one thing comes to pass alone
For its own sake, but for the sheep
Of Israel, and all who keep
The covenant. With fish and wives
God writes his ways across our lives.

"You ask me how I got free from
The fish, and how I knew the sum
Of my three dark and senseless days,
And how I breathed, and did appraise
The length of that great beast. Well, there's
A story here. And many prayers
Did make it marvelous.

I do
Not know how I could breathe the few
Days I was in the fish, except
That once, when I awoke and wept
My prayer of thanks, there was a space
Around my head with air. Just grace,
That's all I know. And then I woke
Again, and all was still. The stroke
Of every slowing pulse-beat gave
The signs that this, my living grave,
Was almost dead. A spasm in
Its throat brought air. And then a thin
Bright line appeared. And everything
Within me lunged. The sudden sting,
As layers of skin peeled off my back
And legs, was hardly felt. The crack
Of light was like a trumpet, or
A bell, or like an unlocked door
From death. And when I lunged, the beast,
In one last dying act, released
His pois'ning prey, and threw me out
On sand. I lay there just about
In reach of its gigantic head,
The largest living thing, now dead,
That I had ever seen. My cheek
Was torn, my skin looked like a freak:
Bleached, peeling, wrinkled, open sores,
And stained with reeking bile, and scores
Of tiny leeches covered me.
"And then a raging thirst, now three
Days deepening, reminded me
That here on land I might yet be
A victim of the sea. The bright
And blazing sun was too much light,
And burned my eyes. But on
The beach, before my mind was gone,
I saw a company of men
And women watching me. And then
With little strength, and in the tongue
Of my dear fatherland, I clung
To life and cried, 'Help me.' But they
Were all afraid. The monster may
Be sleeping, and awake to seize
Them all. But then, as if with ease
And confidence, a single man
Came forth, knelt down, and then began
To give me water from his sack.
He put his arm around my back
To hold me up, so I could drink.
He looked at me, and then, I think,
He smiled, and tears came to his eyes.
He put his arm beneath my thighs,
And picked me up. Without a sound,
He gently carried me around
The crowd, and took me to his place.
And cared for me. He cleaned my face,
And used a kind of meal to take
The leeches off my skin, and make
The blisters heal. And finally,
When days of my insanity
Were passed, the gentle stranger said,
'You have been raised up from the dead.'
"'How do you speak my language?' I
Inquired. 'Because your God Most High
Appointed me for this.' 'Do you
Believe in Yahweh?' 'Yes, I do.
And may his name be praised in all
The world.' 'How did you come to call
Him Lord? You are a Gentile.' 'You,
A prophet, ask me this? A true
And faithful prophet surely would
Perceive such simple things. And should
Not three days in the bowels of death
Illumine grace, with every breath
A gift? Is this more strange or more
Impossible than that a door
Of faith should be thrown open by
The Lord for Gentiles? Jonah, I
For one, believe God would delight
In setting free a Ninevite.'

"I trembled at the words he spoke,
Could there have been a deeper stroke
Against my conscience, raw with guilt?
He may as well have struck and spilt
My blood. 'How do you know my name?
And how do you discern my shame?
And whence your knowledge that I spent
Three days in that great fish?' 'You went
From Joppa on a ship which I
Have sailed for many years. And my
Great fortune, this time, was to be
There when they threw you in the sea.
I saw you give your life, and then,
I watched your God do what none can,
But the Creator God alone:
The moment you sank like a stone,
The wind and waves were calm. I knelt
Beside the rail and prayed, and felt
The God of heaven lift the guilt
Of all my sin. And there we built
An altar, made a sacrifice,
And I do thank you for the price
You paid that I might come to know
Your great and gracious God, although
It was not your design, but His.'"

"Wow," said the lad, "I think that is
The greatest thing I ever heard.
So, Jonah, even when you erred,
And had no plan for good at all,
God had a gracious plan to call
A Ninevite and make him free,
Who lived near Joppa by the sea!"

"That's right, Hosea, and I wish
That one death in a giant fish
Were all it took to make me see
And savor what God meant to be.
But sin is deep and I was not
So quick to get what you have got
At once. God make your love to burn
The way I was so slow to learn.
Tomorrow night, if you come back,
I'll take you from that little shack
Near Joppa by the sea, and show
You what God did to make me know
And love his ways. Till then, good night."

And now let candle two give light
To this: the path to life is strange,
And none can know the kind, or range
Of deaths that one must die, along
The way that leads to life. The song
That satisfies the human soul,
When nothing tender can console,
Is learned beside the grave, or from
Within. And knowing both, we've come
To see how little difference
There is between the two, and whence
Bewilderment upon the face,
Which has not wept in either place.
But for the rest, the years make plain:
To lose is life, to die is gain.

© Desiring God

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 1,000 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be explicitly approved by Desiring God.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: Email: Toll Free: 1.888.346.4700.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Persistence of a Fish Tale

Kaspen Prague Anagram

Abbot and Costello have a great piece on Jonah and the whale. It is another example of the persistence of the story of the reluctant prophet in popular culture.

Yvonne Sherwood has written a fascinating monograph, A Biblical Text and its Afterlives: The Survival of Jonah in Western Culture. With a clear relish for her subject she begins with an introduction entitled -- "Marvellous excess and monstrous mutations on dishing up and spinning (out) biblical words." She goes on from there. She traces Jonah's journey not from Joppa to Tarshish, as he intended, but rather a stranger passage from Jewish scripture to Christian sarcophagus via the words of Jesus in the Gospels. Later he enters the backwater of popular myth until he, as Dr. Sherwood put it is, "Jonah on the oncology ward and the beached-up whale carcass; or the strange secular afterlives of biblical texts."
This text with it's counter intuitive message and anti-prophet continues it's life even after the religion it formed and the civilization it informed are forgotten in a post-modern amnesia. But it is to be hoped that perhaps the amnesiac may yet regain memory and faith. I do not lose hope. JWS

In the late 1800's a man named James Bartley claimed to have been a whaleman aboard a British whaleship the "Star of the East". The ship was hunting whales off of South America in 1891 when a sperm whale was spotted. Two whale boats went out to catch the whale. One boat was wrecked by the whale, one sailor drowned and one (Bartley) was lost and could not be found. The second boat killed the whale and towed it to the ship. The next day, when the stomach of the whale was brought up on deck and cut open, Bartley was found inside the stomach of the whale. A bit worse for wear (it was said that his hair was gone and his face and hands were bleached "like parchment").

According to the story, Bartley eventually made a full recovery (although he retained the strange coloring of his skin) and became somewhat of a local celebrity around England. His story was printed in popular accounts and newspapers at the time, and has shown up quite often since then as a tale of the "Modern Jonah".

That's the story anyway... how true might it be? Records show that there was a ship called the "Star of the East" that was sailing in the right place at the right time. The only problem is that it was not a whale ship. Checking records of the ship show no one named Bartley on any of the voyages. The wife of the captain (who was on all of the trips the ship took) was interviewed about the incident and said that it did not happen and that Bartley had made up a "fish story".
What we do know is that right about the time that the story of Bartley broke there was a dead whale that had been harpooned near shore and was being exhibited around the coast of England. Skeptics say that Bartley may have made up the whole story to cash in on the publicity generated by the whale exhibit and used an odd skin condition he had as "proof". But it seems that this is about as close as the facts can get us and we will likely never know for sure.... http://http//

A Play In One Scene

JONAH -- Did Jonah live for three days inside a fish?

PROF -- (enters carrying briefcase and books, begins crossing)

KATY -- (follows carrying books and papers, shouts) Professor

PROF -- (stops, turns) Yes?

KATY -- (approaches) I've decided what I'm going to write my
dissertation on.

PROF -- Already? I gave you a week to decide.

KATY -- Yes. I got an email yesterday that got me interested in
the story of Jonah and the whale. So, I decided that my
dissertation will be titled, "Three ways to live three days in
the belly of a fish".

PROF -- That's a very clever title. But...

KATY -- This email said that a man was actually swallowed by a
whale and lived to tell about it.

PROF -- Yes, well, that may or may not be true, but it sort of
misses the point...

KATY -- ...The guy wasn't in the whale's stomach for three whole
whole days, but the incident shows that a man could survive for
several hours. When when they finally rescued him, his hair and
his skin were all bleached from the stomach acid. Can you
believe it?

PROF -- Actually, no, I can't.

KATY -- Well, the email said that the story was verified.

PROF -- Would this story just happen to be about a whaling ship
in the Falkland Islands?

KATY -- As a matter of fact, it would. How did...

PROF -- ...I researched that story myself. Not a word of it is
KATY -- It isn't?

PROF -- No. It turns out the boat named in the story is a
fishing boat, not a whaler. The ship's crew list never listed
the name of the man who was allegedly involved. The ship's log
never even mentioned the Falkland Islands. And the captain's
widow said her husband never mentioned anything even closely
related such a story. She called it a sea yarn.

KATY -- Oh.

PROF -- The most unfortunate part about the story is that
Christians have been propagating the story for almost a hundred
years as if it were a fifth gospel.

KATY -- They said it was verified.

PROF -- I'm sure they meant well. But, actually, it doesn't
really matter if a man could survive in a fish's belly or not.

KATY -- It doesn't?

PROF -- No, Jesus made that pretty clear.

KATY -- Jesus did? How was Jesus involved?

PROF -- In Matthew 12:40, Jesus says "For as Jonah was three
days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of
Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the

KATY -- Oh. You mean Jonah didn't stay alive in the whale. He
was dead.

PROF -- That's the way it looks to me.

KATY -- That kind of makes the story of Jonah all the more
exciting, doesn't it?

PROF -- Yes. And prophetic.

KATY -- Prophetic?

PROF -- Yes. In Jonah 2:6, Jonah prays, " brought my life
up from the pit, O LORD my God."

KATY -- He died and rose again.

PROF -- Do you still want your dissertation to be called "Three
ways to live three days in the belly of a fish"?

KATY -- I guess not.

PROF -- (turns moves to exit) Well, you still have a week to

KATY -- (follows) That's too bad I had a really neat design for
a snorkel....

©2005 Bob Snook. Conditions for use:
Do not sell any part of this script, even if you rewrite it.
Pay no royalties, even if you make money from performances.
You may reproduce and distribute this script freely,
but all copies must contain this copyright statement. The notion that Jonah was resurreced is new to me. That of course would deal with many problems and arguments if that were the case. But for me it holds water in a different way. It is a story, a satire even and the writer is not telling a story of natural history nor is it an episode of Crocodile Hunter. It is a story that tells us about God and our relationship with God. Most everything else is part of the story. JWS

Nineveh That Great City

"The Dying Lion" A stone panel from the North Palace of Ashurbanipal, Nineveh 645 BC

The Iraq War has made household names of cities in the fertile crescent. The ruins ancient Nineveh is near the modern city of Mosul. Nineveh plays a large role in the Book of Jonah. She is "that great city" whose sin has "come up" to God like a bad smell. Since the livestock windup in the fast someone has called Nineveh the town that was so bad even the cows needed to repent.

The Assyrians were skilled at the use of terror as a tool of government. They also displaced peoples from their lands swapping with them with people from other places. This kept things off balance and made control easier. They were famous for their inventive creative cruelty. It is not difficult to understand why Jonah left town on the next ship when the word came. He had a sinking feeling that God might forgive the monsters at Mosul. And God did when the monsters repented. Jonah's worst fears were realized.

We must guard against succumbing to the temptation of trying to use God as a weapon.

Economy of Heaven III -- Above Price And Free

"His Salvation" Cornelis Monsma

The kingdom of heaven is a strange upside down sort of place where the values we have held are found to be wanting. It reminds of a story, "There once was a rich man who was near death. He was very grieved because he had worked so hard for his money and he wanted to be able to take it with him to heaven. So he began to pray that he might be able to take some of his wealth with him.

An Angel hears his plea and appears to him. "Sorry but you can't take your wealth with you." The man implores the angel to speak to God to see if He might bend the rules.

The man continues to pray that his wealth could follow him. The angel reappears and informs the man that God has decided to allow him to take one suitcase with him. Overjoyed, the man gathers his largest suitcase and fills it with pure gold bars and places it beside his bed. Soon afterward the man dies and shows up at the Gates of Heaven to greet St. Peter. St. Peter seeing the suitcase says, "Hold on, you can't bring that in here!"

But the man explains to St. Peter that he has permission and asks him to verify his story with the Lord.

Sure enough, St. Peter checks and comes back saying, "You're right. You are allowed one carry-on bag, but I'm supposed to check its contents before letting it through.

St. Peter opens the suitcase to inspect the worldly items that the man found too precious to leave behind and exclaims, "You brought pavement!"

St. Gregory the Great, "The Kingdom of heaven has not price tag on it: It is worth as much as you have. For Zacchaeus it was worth half of what he owned, because the other half that he had unjustly pocketed he promised to restore fourfold. [Luke 19:8] For Peter and Andrew it was worth the nets and vessel they had left behind; for the widow it was worth two copper coins; [Mark12:42] for another it was worth a cup of cold water [Matthew 10:42] So as we have said, the kingdom of heaven is worth as much as you have." Forty Gospel Homilies 5:2

So it is. We are wise to give up those things we cannot keep in order to gain that which we cannot lose. JWS

Friday, May 4, 2007

How Much More -- Economy of Heaven II

"Burst Into Jubilant Song" Cornelis Monsma 2002

The economy of the earth bis based on scarcity. The less there is of something the greater its value. As some wit has put it the world also has a golden rule, "Those who have the gold make the rules!" We learn early to sing the litany of scarcity, "There's not enough! There's not enough, There's not enugh!" The game, deadly serious, but a game nevertheless is to get ahead -- to accumulate in order to be somebody -- a player even. We must or we will finsh our course with nothing and therefore be nothing.

Not so with the economy of God. The economy of God is based, not on scarcity, but rather on abundance, even super abundance, as it is written, “give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back." (Luke 6.38)

There is a persistent theme in the Gospels where Jesus says to his listeners that if you being evil (imperfect - fallible) know how to give good things to your children how much more will your heavenly father give you the Holy Spirit if you ask Him?"

How much more is the too good to be true words of the Kingdom. You are this and that. And if you can manage to pull yourself together and do this how much more will God do because He is God -- The Hesed (loving kindness) of God is made new every morning. This is the God that called Jonah. This is the God who Jonah had a sinking feeling that given the slightest opportunity would forgive the folks at Nineveh.

"Just as the Assyrians had a reputation for outrageous cruelty, causing Yonah to want to see them destroyed, the author presents YHVH as having a reputation for outlandish mercy, which w0uld result in grace being shown even to Nineveh: "...for I know that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing." (4:2) Introduction to Hebrew Bible: A Guided Tour of Israel's Sacred Library -- James E. Bowley

No wonder Jonah ran away. He didn't want to be a party to such reckless forgiveness.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Economy of Heaven I -- It's A Gift!

"The River" Cornelis Monsma

A long passage from Lewis Hyde's book illustrates the contradiction of cultures in the first encounter between the first nations and the English in North America.

"When the Puritans first landed in Massachusetts, they discovered a thing so curious about the Indians’ feelings for property that they felt called upon to give it a name. In 1764, when Thomas Hutchinson wrote his history of the colony, the term was already an old saying: “An Indian gift,” he told his readers, “is a proverbial expression signifying a present for which an equivalent return is expected.” We still use this, of course, and in an even broader sense, calling that friend an Indian giver who is so uncivilized as to ask us to return a gift he has given.

Imagine a scent. An Englishman comes into an Indian lodge, and his hosts, wishing to make their guest feel welcome, as him to share a pipe of Tobacco. Craved from a soft red stone, the pipe itself is a peace offering that has traditionally circulated among the local tribes, staying in each lodge for a time but always given away again sooner or later. And so the Indians, as only polite among their people, give the pipe to theirs guest when he leaves. The English man is ticked tickled. What a nice thing to send back to the British Museum! He takes it home and sets it on the mantelpiece. A time passes and the leaders of a neighboring tribe come to visit the colonists’ home. To his surprise he finds his guests have some expectation in regard to his pipe, and his translator finally explains to him that if he wishes to show his goodwill he should offer them a smoke and give them the pipe. In consternation the Englishman invents a phrase to describe these people with such a limited sense of private property. The opposite of “Indian giver” would be something like “white man keeper” (or maybe “capitalist”), that is, a person whose instinct to remove property from circulation, to put it in a warehouse or museum (or, more to the point for capitalism, to lay it aside to be used for production).

The Indian giver (or the original one, at any rate) understood a cardinal property of the gift: whatever we have been given is supposed to be given away again, not kept. Or, if it is kept, something of similar value should move on in its stead, the way a billiard ball may stop when it sends another scurrying across the felt, its momentum transferred. You may keep your Christmas present, but it ceases to be a gift in the true sense unless you have given something else away. As it is passed long, the gift may be given back to the original donor, but this is not essential. In fact, it is better if the gift is not returned but is given instead to some new, third party. The only essential is this: the gift must always move. There are other forms of property that stand still, that mark a boundary or resist momentum, but the gift keeps moving.”


The loving kindness (Hesed) of God is based on gift not commodity. This is a the core of the Book of Jonah. It appears that the flight of Jonah is based on Jonah's fear that the "Hesed/mercy" of God would be such that indeed God would forgive Nineveh.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

It's the Mother of Your Fear!

David Whyte in his book, The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America sees Beowulf as a story of the descent beneath the waters of the unconscious. “The early English teller of Beowulf asked his listeners to drop beneath the surface of their daily existence, where the rational mind continually prays for dry feet. Since that time the physical details of life may have changed. The elemental motifs have not. He was a prince and warrior who did not make his home in any one kingdom, but went offering his services to foreign kings for that same mixture of personal honor, self-education, prestige, and personal gain that motivates his modern consultative counterpart.” (pg. 36) When the monster comes again – he kills him. “The problem, it seems, has been solved in one swift movement. But that night, as Beowulf sleeps with his men in a different hall, something else comes from the swamp to Herot, fights off the best warriors, and retreats with its human victim. Grendel’s mother. The message in this portion of the poem is unsparing. It is not the thing you fear that you must deal with, it is the mother of the thing you fear. The very thing that has given birth to the nightmare.” (pg. 38)

Why? You might ask are you talking about Beowulf in a blog devoted to Jonah the truant prophet? A good question. In both stories there is a going below the waters to face an ordeal. I return again and again to the passage I quote above. It is not just the thing we fear but the mother of the thing we fear -- to fear that we will not be enough in this life and then not to be at all afterwards is the mother of the fear of inadequacy.

"The only real question is not one of winning or losing, but of experiencing life with an ever increasing depth. Go down into the lake consciously, like Beowulf."(pg.71) Poor Jonah he couldn't even jump into the sea himself he had to wait until the frightened sailors would do it for him. Even then he was passive. Not to choose is a kind of inane choice. JWS

You Are Here!

"Jonah" Digital Illustration

“Jonah’s prayer in the fish tells us something of the way in which he views his own situation. The central topic is the sticky situation in which he finds himself. In the narrator’s text it had already become clear that he is in the less than fresh-smelling innards of a fish, and now Jonah himself indicates his physical situation at that moment. He is struggling for breath and so calls to YHWH (2.3b) and shouts for help (2.3d). Jonah is afraid of death, as attested by the weakness of his breathing (2.8a), his presence in Sheol (2.3d) the depths (2.6b) or the pit (2.7c). In particular the many lexemes that point to sensory perceptions make his situation graphically imaginable to the reader.” [Inner World: A Cognitive Linguistic Approach to the Book of Jonah -- Albert Kamp pg . 133 ]

Metaphorically this area is also the seat of the emotions. Jonah who has fled from the presence of the LORD and may have also have fled from the presence of himself is caught. He is in the place of digestion -- and now he finds his voice. When we find our voice it is intriguing to hear what we have to tell ourselves and God. JWS

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Jonah as Parable

Salvador Dali "Jonah" 1964-1967

“The different ways of story – This basic typology can be summarized like this: Myth establishes world. Apologue defends world. Action investigates world. Satire attacks world. Parable subverts world.” [The Dark Interval: Toward A Theology of Story, John Dominic Crossan pg. 42]

The world of the Old Testament is formed in the mythic stories of the Tanakh. Genesis describes creation as a good thing – the origins of sin – the calling of Abraham and his descendants as a chosen people. Exodus continues the saga of the children of Israel as they leave Egypt bound for the Promised Land. These are the myths of the Bible. They tell those who claim them who they are.

One of the dangers of myths for those who live them is the distortion of the wear and tear of life. In the case of the chosen they moved from chosenness (to be the instruments of blessing for all people) to specialness and privilege.

Jonah serves as a parable, a tale of subversion, critiquing the sense of privilege that had accrued like barnacles on the myth of Israel. God is concerned for all people even; it turns out, the folks of Nineveh. In addition God cares about the welfare of the cattle, which seems a bit odd to our ear, but much in line with the Creator of the Cosmos who found creation good very very good.

It also speaks to the growing greening of theology in the twenty-first century.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Wherever You Go There You Are

When the word of the LORD came to Jonah telling him to go and preach at Nineveh he went rather down to Joppa and took passage on a ship bound for Tarshish. The map above of the Mediterranean Sea shows the cities in question. Jonah is told to go East and he went West in the opposite direction to flee the presence of the LORD. The direction is literally from East to West on the map but it is also psychologically true as well. The sun rises in the East and thus the East is the direction of enlightenment. The sun sets in the West and the West is the direction of unconsciousness. Not only does Jonah wish to get away physically but psychically as well. Of course this is not possible.
Back in the 1980's a little known science fiction movie was released entitled:
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension. It has since achieved a cult following. The title character a physicist/rock and roll musician had a favorite expression that also achieved a cult following, "Wherever you go there you are." Having a firm grip on the obvious may be the safest way deal with life. We can run, but we can't hide -- not from God -- not even from ourselves. We may have a terminal case of denial but eventually some symptom, ours or some one nearby will serve to remind us that denial is not just a river in Egypt. We like Jonah may sleep the sleep of the profoundly depressed but there is always a captain eventually to wake us to the storm about to swamp the ship. JWS

A Zone of Mercy

Jona at Nineveh -- Ulrich Leive

“A monastic community becomes a heaven not because its theory and structures are correct and its personnel are perfect, but because it is a zone of mercy. In Bernard’s [of Clairvaux) view, spiritual life begins with self-knowledge, progresses via compassion or empathy, and finds its completion in the self-forgetfulness of contemplation.” Reflections On The Beliefs and Values Of The Rule Of Saint Benedict Michael Casey, Monk of Tarrawarra

I think it was Flannery O'Connor that once said, "if the Church is not a divine institution it will turn into an Elk's Club." The Church always has social club tendencies. At our worst we have social club tendencies with a curious and truly destructive penchant for accounting and keeping score. All too often the righteousness in the Church is self-righteousness and such is not righteous at all. What all sinners need is mercy and it behoves those in household of faith not to forget how it was before we entered the door of baptism. Repentance is always in order. If nothing else we should repent of our righteousness.

Repentance and forgiveness are the great themes of the Book of Jonah. Jonah runs from the presence of the LORD, he claims, because he had a sinking feeling that the LORD just might forgive the folks of Nineveh and Jonah was not in a forgiving mood. Whether Jonah ever "gets it" when God asks the final question is not recorded. JWS
["On the Jewish Day of Atonement, Jonah is read in its entirety at the afternoon service after the Torah, since "The story of Jonah epitomizes the power of repentance, and serves to reassure the worshipers that God's arm is extended to receive them." Jonah's Journeys -- Barbara Green -- Editor pg. 131]

Saturday, April 21, 2007

O Taste And See

Icon of Origen

Origen is one of the most original thinkers the church has ever produced. The Church at Alexandria approached the study and interpretation of scripture in a sophisticated nuanced way which may be helpful in looking at Jonah. Origen and the Alexandrian School saw the Bible in an metaphorical way. There were layers upon layers to be teased out by careful and close reading. It may have been in Egypt that the whole formal discipline of Biblical interpretation began. The Interfaces volume on Jonah lays out this way of thinking. There are three levels of meaning in scripture. [Jonah's Journeys: Interfaces -- Barbara Green, Editor]
  1. The first level of meaning he (Origen) called the literal or historical, comprising, beside events, data like geography and botany.
  2. Another level was called the moral, and comes closer to what we would likely call psychological or ethical.
  3. A third crucial level was for Origen the allegorical or spiritual. It is from this level, accessed ordinarily via the first two, that the divine mysteries about God and human beings becomes available to those able to attend to them.

As people of faith we do not read scripture just academically. We read it to encounter the risen Christ. "When Scripture is read allegorically, the Scripture reader's soul 'makes room' for the reception of the powerful knowledge of spiritual realities needed for the transformative fashioning of his or her soul. Christian Figural Reading And The Fashioning of Identity -- John David Dawson pg. 61]

Psalm 34 comes to mind particularly the eighth verse, "O taste and see that the Lord is good..." From very early the Church said and sang this verse on the way to communion. To hear the word but also to consume it is to integrate the resurrection perhaps into the very cellular structure of one's body. Conversion is at a very deep level and it requires that we, like Jonah, go (often thrown overboard) into the waters that we may plumb the depths of our souls thereby meeting the Holy One who created us. O taste and see that the Lord is good! JWS

Showing Up For Roll Call

"Samuel Awaking Eli" Georges de La Tour

Someone (perhaps Woody Allen) has said that a high percentage of life (90% or so) is "showing up." While life is indeed more complicated than that it is worthy of all to be received that without showing up not much gets done. There is an interesting pattern in the Old Testament where God calls and the person addressed says, "here am I." It seems more or less at first examination a simple matter of good manners. But then good manners and good theology often come from the same place. We find no such manners in the Book of the Prophet Jonah.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai… but Jonah does not answer. Rather he runs away from the presence of the Lord. Where else do we find this but in Genesis when The Lord came down to walk in Eden at the cool time in the late afternoon and as he walked he called to Adam and Eve but they hid and said nothing ashamed of their nakedness.

Contrast this with Abraham who when God spoke always replied, “Here am I.” The word is hineni. [“In the Hebrew Bible the call of God and the answer hineni constitute moments of particular dramatic significance. Hineni is a performative utterance, as much as 'I promise' and 'I bless'. By saying hineni the speaker accepts responsibility for himself and for whatever task God may impose upon him. Adam and Jonah, quite simply, refuse to say hineni.” Pg. 172 The Book of God: A Response To The Bible, by Gabriel Josipoci]

Josipoci continues, "...after three days and three nights in the fish's belly, Jonah discovers that this is not where he wants to be...he suddenly finds it in himself to give voice; he calls out to God and God responds.
That there is not escape from dialogue is recognized by all those who are called by God: Noah, Abrahan, Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah. When God first calls them their response is usually: 'Please, leave me alone. I don't want to speak to you. I'm not worth. I can't do it. Try someone else.' Nevertheless, they answer, and God strengthens them, telling them he will always be with them. [pg. 171]

God, who the psalmist says is closer than hands and feet, is always more ready to respond than we to call. We not only are willful in our mute response but we also must learn to know the word of the Lord when we hear it. The story of the boy Samuel comes to mind -- (I Samuel 3)

3Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; 3the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. 4Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ 5and ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. 6The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ 7Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. 8The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. 9Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” ’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’

Learning to listen and then to answer is a move in the right direction. It requires that we learn to quiet our minds so as to get the background static down to the point that we can hear the still small voice of the Holy One. Then we face the consequences of what to do with the call. And we are all called!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Jonah Marbles

Cleveland Museum of Art

Amazing art from the ancient world. Four of the pieces are from the Jonah story and one is the Good Shepherd.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


"Jonah" Philip Ratner

by Keith Schlegel

"Your Code Name is Jonah"
(after the “choose your own adventure” book by Edward Packard)

Jonah (he said): Your nose knows just the touch of stench;
Your hands see not;
your eyes draw the darkness;
Your mouth can neither feed nor smoke.

So. Listen. I,

Come, come—
Nineveh waits, in a whale of a mess.
Spain’s wattles are not for you, no how,
Believe me.

What does your Seiko say?
Can your digits tell
Big hands from little hands?
It’s time… it’s time…

In my ocean, my whales swim minnow-small;
Yet all—all
Is prepared. I know I’ll change my mind.
Change yours.

Think. One hundred twenty thousand and

Jonah (I say): Arise and go now.
Look through the mouth of day.
Meet, greet the dawn down.
Wake in his wake.
Rise-up sweet slug-a-bed
Plant your pity; give your forty days.

You’re my type, and
I’m behind you all the way,

(From Nightsun #2, 1982)

"Jonah in the Soup"

I’m in for it now.
This stilling of the water is for the sailors’ sake,
Not mine.
And they are, within my hearing, whimpering still
Their fear, their thanks, their promises.
And here I wait, upon the Lord’s petulant sea.
I told them to throw me over.
Tell me, how might I have known before
What even now, after this sign, is uncertain?
If every man followed every sign every time
And if all voice-like sounds we hear
Or think we hear
We obeyed, then
How should we be men at all?

I was asleep earlier. . .
I mean no disrespect.
It’s just that I have vagrant thoughts,
And anyway, am I a bird, a beast, a fish
To jerk to impulse not my own?

And say I knew, I really knew, what then?
I have no skill in speaking,
And Nineveh from what I’ve heard, is no Gomorrah,
And He’s relented before, with Isaac,
And there are

Hst! What’s that? a certain whoosh,
A wave slapping my ear?

A sudden shadow in the form of a shape advances.
I’m in for it now.

(From Nightsun #3, 1983)

"Jonah in Nineveh"

For long days, hot among the ashes
In which they sat, I walked.
They burned, of course, and so did I.
Fair, if effects be chained.
Worth it, if justice is final,
Confirming consequence from cause.
Fair if the predictable,
Just is the certain,
When we know.

“The End is Near,” I cried,
Until the syllables grew hoarse,
My soles blistered,
And the straps of the sandwich boards
Cut my shoulders.
So what if they fasted, and wept, and prayed?
Too little, too late.
Should a three-day fast abolish
Decades of excess?

This is why I fled before:
That fate not be fickle and that I
Not burn like this.
I sought a bower
Bereft of promised ill,
Your promise.

So let me die, ashamed,
Made a liar by your lies.
You repent your revelation; let me
Repent my repentance, and theirs.
You changed your changeless mind!
(No, but as nature and this city grow, pity grew.
Limitless pity makes all large and new.)

Three Days And Three Nights -- From Abstract to Concrete

"In The Beginning" 1993 Kim Jae Im -- Korea

I find the following discussion of the three days and nights fascinating. In all the reading I have done on Jonah and the sign of Jonah this breaks new ground. I quote this to add to the conversation of any who reads this blog. More after you read. JWS

"In the creation narrative things take three days to emerge from ideal existence to activity, from natural habitat to habitation by its inhabitant, so to speak. Thus, light is spoken forth on the first day (Gen 1:3-5) but does not become active until the fourth, through the creation of the luminaries (vv.14-19). The precondition of the winged creatures' appearance on the fifth day (vv. 20-21) is the stretching out of the firmament on day two (vv. 6-8). And, to complete the double and parallel triad, the dry land (day three, vv. 9-10) awaits its quadripeds and bipeds on the sixthe (vv.24-25). In short, for all creatures to emerge in days four through six, there is a requisite three-day hatching or incubation period.
One can detect a distant but eery parallel in Jonah's own "incubation," if that is the right term. One might say that Jonah's three days in the belly of the fish is nothing short of an emergence from darkness (the ship's hold) and watery chaos (shades of Genesis 1:2) and return to dry land." The Honeymoon Is Over: Jonah's Argument with God -- T. A. Perry pg. 216

The "Sign of Jonah" that Jesus promises in Matthew takes on a crisp crackle in my ear when I pass it by the notion of Dr. Perry. The movement from Ideal existence to activity, from theory if you will to practice. Jesus couldn't have known for sure, in his humanity, what would happen on the other side of his cry, "it is finished!" What was finished could have been a wonderful but naive notion of a better world or his last breath or just one more entry into Sheol the place of the silent dead. However, three days is the time to get it right from the drawing boards to the showroom and into the
street. "Why are you seeking the living among the dead?" A good question that we
should perhaps answer. The sign of Jonah indeed! JWS

Monday, April 16, 2007

...and Belched Back Like A Word To Grace Us All

In my beginning was the memory, somehow
contradicting Jonah, that essential babe
of unbaptised digestion, being a nugget
to call pity on Jerusalem and on Nature, too

We have his travels in the snare so widely
ruminated,---of how he stuck there, was reformed,
forgiven, also--
and belched back like a word to grace us all.

There is no settling tank in God. It must be borne
that even His bowels are too delicate to board
a sniping thief that has a pious beard.
We must hail back the lamb that went unsheared.

O sweet deep whale as ever reamed the sky
with high white gulfs of vapor, castigate
our sins, but be hospitable as Hell.
And keep me to the death like ambergris,
sealed up, and unforgiven in my cell.

Hart Crane

Crane catches the image -- the "going down" like unto baptism. The image of death by drowning is clear in the baptismal liturgy. The collect at the end of the prayer for the candidates,
"Grant, O Lord, that all who are baptized into the death of Jesus Christ your Son may live in the power of his resurrection and look for him to come again in glory; who lives and reigns now and for ever." Amen. -- Book of Common Prayer pg. 306 JWS

Sunday, April 15, 2007

"Let Us Mark Well This Story: It Is A True Pattern Of Our Estate

Albert Pinkham Ryder ca. 1885

"Who hath not heard the story of Jonas? Jonas was in the whale's belly: the place was very dark: the waves beat on every side: he was drowned, yet touched no water; he was swallowed up, yet not consumed; he lived without any sense of life; the fish was death, the sea was death, and the tempest was death; yet he died not; but lived in the midst of death, he could not see, he could not hear, he knew not to whom he might call for help; he was taken and carried away, he knew not whither. Let us mark well this story: it is a true pattern of our estate, and sheweth what our Life is in this world. (John Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury -- from his A Treatise of the Holy Scriptures 1570)

What A Noble Thing Is That Canticle In The Fish's Belly

"Jonah" -- Sistine Chapel -- by Michelangelo

"Shipmates, this book, containing only four chapters -- four yarns -- is one of the smallest strands in the mighty cable of the Scriptures. Yet what depths of the soul Jonah's deep sealine sound! What a pregnant lesson to us is this prophet! What a noble thing is that canticle in the fish's belly! How billow-like and boisterously grand! We feel the bloods surging over us, we sound with him to the kelpy bottom of the waters, sea-weed and all the slime of the sea is about us! But what is this lesson that the book ob Jonah teaches? Shipmates, it is a two-stranded lesson; a lesson to us all sinful men, and a lesson to me as a pilot of the living God." (Father Mapple, in Hermann Melville's Moby Dick)