In my ‘line of work’ or at least my academic discipline, when there is a question, a mystery, you will just keep on looking what is there but maybe hidden in an object, and at the same time you gather different sources that might help you understand what you see, as well as you mentally and physically reconstruct what is now only traces of history. This morning, although the academic mystery that I am currently researching is not yet solved, I have another mystery begging for some answer. As with any kind of research I formulated a question that might not get me to the ‘right’ answer but will help me on my way- this question prompted because I was in a strange space of mind and time. The question was: God, how can it be that telling one story, is such a big deal? Obviously I considered other reasons than the storytelling for my current state of strangeness- lack of sleep- time of the month- time of the year- spring leaves me breathless rather than restless… but these were all factors that were both beyond my control ánd in my bones- since I cannot get rid of my bones that easily, and do not control the time of year, another more answerable question came to mind to direct the research: What was that one story that I told?
Soon, I realized there were multiple layers to what I had told- easily enough I figured I actually told 2 stories, my version of the book of Jonah, and my view of the book in a form of a poem. I decided to go to the book of Jonah to see what it was about, to actually understand why this story and telling it might have touched me. It is interesting when you tell a story by heart, how much you change- telling the story of Jonah, I kept the main things, the boat, the storm, the fish, Nineveh, de tree, and Gods answer. Yet some details, not in the least because I forgot them, I did not explore, while other aspects that are hardly mentioned in the book I elaborated on because I could make jokes about them, or because they seemed to make the story more interesting.
In between the formulation of the research question and the reading of the story in one of the many bibles that are in our house I was reading up on the ‘8’ on the Enneagram- the ‘boss’ type that controls situations or people because he or she does not like to be controlled- and of whom one of the main expressions and emotions are anger and frustration. Reading the story side by side with the Enneagram I saw that Jonah had quite some ‘eightness’ about him. He did not enjoy to be told by God what to do so he made his own plan to hide, to control the situation, but at the same time, he knows when it’s time to stop- and lets himself get thrown overboard. what happens next is that he goes on to Nineveh, and Nineveh repents. One of the things I love the most and in a way lies in line with my view of the 8 type character is when Jonah gets upset with Gods decision to save Nineveh- and he says to God: Well… no surprise here.. you know what, I knew that this would happen when I was still in my country, that was why I fled on the boat because Iknow that you have pity, and mercy and you are patient and rich in love and you are always prone to regret the doom you have placed over someone. And then, because Jonah is a bit of a drama queen he says: you can take away my breath because right now, I love death more than life. It is marvelous to see how upset Jonah gets because of seeing God being loving and kind and merciful and seeing him come back on his promise of doom. But this actually makes sense when you look at Jonah with the eight number on the enneagram- love, kindness, mercy is all weakness that the eight tries to avoid. God’s reaction to Jonah’s anger and his disapproval of his goodness is precious: ‘Is there really a reason to be so upset?’ we get no answer from Jonah, but interestingly enough he does take his time to stick around and watch what will happen to the city. And this is when God uses Jonah’s passion ‘against him’ or rather to broaden his horizon. He gives Jonah a tree to be in the shade and to calm him down a bit- yet in the night the tree dies and being on the east side of the city the sun rises and Jonah soon finds out that he lost his precious tree. Just as well there is a terrible wind that makes Jonah so depressed he once again longs to die. And he tells god: I now love death more than life. God asks once again: Do you really think there is a reason to be so angry about this tree? and Jonah answer is simple and passionate: Yes, I have all reason to be unreasonably angry about losing this tree. God now has Jonah where he needs him to be to listen- filled with his passion and acceptance of the anger over the loss of a simple tree- but God calls it something else than anger. He says- ‘you are caring deeply for that tree‘ I wonder what the look on Jonah’s face and the feeling in his heart were, seeing his anger for what it was- not just selfish anger but the sadness of the loss of something beautiful. That anger was actually a very vulnerable emotion. Now having jonah know that caring deeply about something can completely mess you up to the point of wanting to die, he continues his awnser: so you felt that storngly about a tree, that you did not plant, that you did not take care of, a tree that bloomed and died in the night – would I then not, care deeply about this gigantic cityof nineve wher there are so many poeple more than thousands and thousands, people that don’t even know the difference between left and right, and all the animals?
The book stops here and I think that is good, I think after that day Jonah was a broken man. Not because God saved the city, but because realized that he was not so different than the God he so despised for being weak, and he himself is just a man had no way of feeling secure in power as the almighty might have. In my poem about Jonah I find myself an even more cowardliness man than Jonah- where Jonah still had the passion to run from a God he thought to be too merciful, I would have gone with that God, but always on a distance- would I be broken down and moved beyond the point of turning back at the answer God had for the angry Jonah? In a way reading the story of Jonah did was different than the way I told the story a few days ago, yet it helps me to understand and accept where I am now. What the story of Jonah taught me today is that it is not a terrible thing to be overtaken by emotions and to let things play out, angry or not- this is where God talks, and speaks, and shows himself, in the mirror.