Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Sign of Jonah

Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, 'Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.'  But he answered them, 'An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.  For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth.     -- Matt. 12:38-40

Just before turning to Matthew to read the selection above, the thought crossed my mind that I still need to describe to a friend of mine the Bible Study on Jonah that was given by the pastor at the Grand Canyon Synod Assembly.  I know I cannot do justice to that man's storytelling ability and humor, so I have put it off.  But now, with this coincidence of Jonah in my mind and today's readings, I will think a little more about Jonah.  I know that I cannot recreate that Pastor's insight -- and perhaps I am not meant to.

For I have recently been in the belly of a "sea monster" myself.  For the last week and a half, I have been on a cruise ship sailing from Seattle to ports along the Inland Passage of Alaska, and back.  And I was forced into an isolation of sorts.  I took my laptop, thinking I would keep up with my blogging, but soon found out that a Wi-fi connection would cost me $.69 per minute.  Hmmmm.  As much as I thought about it, I could not bring myself to pay that amount.  Nor did spending a few hours writing at a local hotspot in Juneau or Skagway, instead of spending the time sightseeing with family, seem like a good option.

I was cut off, disconnected.  And like Jonah, I underwent something of a transformation.

I left town full of questions more than answers, not sure what to write, unless it was to say that I was full of questions (and not sure if that was a good idea), afraid I would write something I would regret, but feeling pressured to write something.  My usual every-two-to-three-days entry had already stretched to a week!  Forced to silence my reflections -- though disjointed they might be -- for even longer, was difficult.  Wasn't I supposed to be sharing my thoughts?  Isn't that what God wanted me to do?  Perhaps also people were wondering why I wasn't writing. 

It took a while to stop struggling against my disconnection, to stop looking for another way, and accept the silencing of my voice.  But once I did (three days before the end of the cruise no less!), a remarkable thing happened.  At sea for two days before our last port of call, and with the rest of the family happily entertained, I read what came to me unexpectedly, and I rested.  And I found the answers to the questions that had been whirling and twirling in my mind! 

I see now that I had been too busy to stop and wait for God's answers, too pressed for time to listen.  I had been asking questions, expressing concerns, but not waiting for the answers.  For Jonah, being in the belly of the sea monster was a time to return to God with thankfulness, the belly provided a rest from the troubles that crashed over him.  (I invite you to read Jonah, chapter 2).  So too, I, resting in the cabin of one gigantic cruise ship, was also given time to refocus, re-center.  I was given the chance to listen, instead of taking the time to talk.

Perhaps I need to recognize this in the future.  Whenever I feel pulled in different directions, at a loss as to what to say but thinking I must say something, or wondering if God is there -- asking questions but not hearing any answers -- then is the time to stop and gather myself in, stop talking, and just listen; to "remember the Lord," as Jonah says.

Dear God, thank you for patiently leading me to where you want me to be.  I am truly grateful.  Love always, Pam

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

Hi Pam,
I don't know where to start with my response because it is extensive, so I will try to articulate my thinking as clearly as possible. You know me, since we are in Bible study together, and know that I have been experiencing a lot of questions in my own faith much less any other faith. I don't know where God is leading me, so I am in that uncomfortable "in between" place of not knowing. What I do know is that God is working with me and will not leave me unresolved in my beliefs.
I am not experiencing the same comparisons that you are, at least not in the same way. I was very moved by Huston Smith’s comments in, The World’s Religions, where he talks about the "wider company of God seekers"...and then "what a strange fellowship this is, the God-seekers in every land, lifting their voices in the most disparate ways imaginable to the God of all life. How does it sound from above? Like bedlam, or do the strains blend in strange, ethereal harmony? Does one faith carry the lead, or do the parts share in counterpoint and antiphony where not in full-throated chorus". He goes on to say "We cannot know. All we can do is try to listen carefully and with full attention to each voice in turn as it addresses the divine." Then at another point he talks about us as "Cosmic Dancers". He says, "As World Citizen, the Cosmic Dancer will be an authentic child of its parent culture, while closely related to all. The dancer's roots in family and community will be deep, but in those depths they will strike the water table of a common humanity….. If only she might see what has interested other, might it not interest her as well? It is an exciting prospect".
These comments are all examples of what is exciting me. I find the concept of all of us and all religions as “God seekers” and “Cosmic Dancers” intriguing. When he talks about the “authentic child of its parent culture”, I think of our Christian faith and feel connected to the roots of my faith. At this point, that allows me to stand firm where I am while exploring other faiths, without trying to compare. I want to know, and I am truly looking for, "how are we the same" in our spirits and our searching for the divine. At the same time, being human, I experience some of that old "Baptist fear" of anything different is to be viewed as evil. It is a hard contrast to maneuver at times. However, I am taking it step by step and remembering that God does not give us a spirit of fear.
I think to summarize, we are coming at this from different perspectives. When Smith talks about “religion alive”, I want to know how it is alive for other “God seekers”, not necessarily what theological differences are evident. He goes on to say, “Religion alive confronts the individual with the most momentous option life can present. It calls the soul to the highest adventure it can undertake, a proposed journey across the jungles, peaks and deserts of the human spirit. The call is to confront reality, to master the self.” These are big words and thoughts but they speak to me. I long to understand other “God seekers” from a position of the soul, not from a position of theology. You might ask me then; why am I interested in this study and my answer is that I am truly interested in how this soul aspect (as I call it) of faith is manifested in someone of another culture, another faith, another life, completely different from mine. I am not sure how I will know or what I will learn if anything. I might, in the end, find myself asking the same questions you are asking. All I know is I love being on this journey with you and our other sisters in Christ.
Love, Elizabeth