Jonah: In The Depths Week Three
This week's reflection is based on Chapter 2 of Jonah
They asked the lift attendant “How’s life?” “Oh”, came the reply, “It has its ups and downs…”
Being down is usually not seen as a good thing. When people say they’re down, or down in the dumps, or feeling low, or in the valley, then we want to offer them sympathy and support so that they can be lifted up, raised up, buoyant, on top of the world - you get the idea.
So it seems things are going from bad to worse when Jonah, floundering in the sea, is swallowed by a great fish (Jonah 1:17). God is everywhere and Jonah can’t get away. He’s called to go east and he runs to the west - and God is there. He lives on the surface and he’s pushed to the depths - and God is there. The Psalmist also knew this, as we read in Psalm 139:
”Where could I go to get away from your spirit?
Where could I go to escape your presence?
If I went up to heaven, you would be there.
If I went down to the grave, you would be there too!” (Ps 139:7,8)
And yet there is very good news for us. Because in the Judaeo-Christian story, the depths are also places of healing and transformation. Jonah is in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights, just as Jesus was in the grave, Jesus who said to his friends ““This generation is an evil generation. It looks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except Jonah’s sign. Just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Human One will be a sign to this generation.” (Luke 11:28-30, CEB). And God raised Jesus from death and vindicated his life and his message so that we and the world might be saved.
So the depths become places of healing and restoration as well as places of dereliction. Places where you come to terms with the realities and come to see the hand of God in the circumstances of life. And so it is with Jonah, whose prayer from the belly of the fish ends with praise to the God who is always there and who, in the end, is seen as love. As Jonah says (chapter 2, verses 7-9):
“When my endurance was weakening,
I remembered the Lord,
and my prayer came to you,
to your holy temple.
Those deceived by worthless things lose their chance for mercy.
But me, I will offer a sacrifice to you with a voice of thanks.
That which I have promised, I will pay.
Deliverance belongs to the Lord!”
And as soon as Jonah says this, he is released on to the dry land. The depths give him up, but not before the depths have changed him utterly.
My own life has been marked by moments in the depths - and I have no doubt that yours has, too. Moments of crisis certainly, when the sometimes-tragic circumstances of life forced me to look seriously at myself and the way I was going. But also moments when I have “taken the plunge” by choosing to step back from the everyday pressures and trying to take stock of my life in the light of the God who is always real, and always true.
Your own life may be marked by crisis today - perhaps the loss of a loved one, or the loss of security in your working life or in your sense of belonging to a nation that knows where it is going. No one wishes crisis on anyone else, but if crisis has come to you, I invite you to pray the prayer of Jonah and to thank God for always being there, and to see where you might go next, and how you might walk even more closely with the God who never lets you go. And I invite you too to share your situation with your ministers, friends and fellow-Christians so that they may pray for you and help you through.
Or you may feel that it’s time to take the plunge with God - perhaps to go on a retreat for a few days, if that’s possible for you, or perhaps to take intentional time in the gaps of your everyday life so as to hear what God may be saying to you about the ways things are going - the way you are going. Your own church community will know some of the resources that the Church makes available for people who want to take stock in this way. It’s part of the Rule of Life of any Christian, to go deeper into God.
In these moments in the depths you may hear the voice of God calling you to a new way of living, or a new ministry. Again, these moments in the depths are best shared with friends, ministers and fellow-Christians so that the impressions you receive may be tested against Scripture and the wisdom of the Church.
“How’s life?” “It has its ups and downs”. It does indeed; and God is to be found in all of them. May the living God bless you in all the circumstances of your life, but perhaps especially in the depths. And may God draw you more closely to God’s own self so that, like Jonah, you may come to know what you are for, and how God will help you.
Jonah: Telling the Truth, truthfully (Week Four)
Our fourth week of the challenge involves reading Jonah Chapter 3ResourceTotal current bookmarks 1
Jonah and the choices we make (Week One challenge)
After reading the first part of Jonah then here is your first challenge.ResourceTotal current bookmarks 2
Jonah and the Storm (Week Two)
Our second week of the challenge involves reading Jonah 1: 4-17ResourceTotal current bookmarks 1
Jonah Summer Reading Challenge
Join Bishop Paul in this year’s Summer Challenge reading the book of Jonah. Sign up to this course and you will receive weekly emails encouraging you to read sections of Jonah alongside the companion book - Journeying with Jonah: the struggle to find yourself’ by the Roman Catholic scholar Denis McBride. Find out more about the challenge and how you can get involved.Course 12 PartsTotal current bookmarks 22