Re-reading Jonah

DSC02679

Blurryness of where we are sometimes

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.

Advertisements

Afraid of the water

DSC03076

Even the puddles scare me these days.

For so long, I’ve been afraid of the water

If I was Jonah I wouldn’t get on that boat

Hell no, I’d go to Nineve.

Tell strangers of doom and God’s salvation,

His story, not mine anyway.

 

If I was Jonah, I wouldn’t have gone to that boat.

And in the end- I would have learned,

How God is good for a city, a stranger, the one who repents

But never

That he will send a fish,

when I deserve being thrown out of the boat

or rather when I jump, simply give up.

My God won’t let me drown.

Writing something intelligent

I have written about writing a lot on this blog. I’ve been exploring why I write, why I think it matters, and what I write and how what others write helps me. One of the reasons I write is to document some of my feelings. Sometimes these feelings do not last, solely the products of the feelings in the forms of poems or rants on paper. However, when these things re-occur, I can go back to my writing to understand how I felt about something, and perhaps how that changed. Growing up in a strong Christian tradition we quickly learned how people often remember only the good things about a previous situation if something goes bad. The Israelites when in the desert after being freed from Egyptian slavery reacted to a lack of meat with the words: oh but in Egypt at least we had meat, forgetting that they also had masters that knew no mercy. Similarly, I am always critical about my own recollection of events: was it as good as I remember? Or was it a bit more nuanced than that? Was it much better?

U Voelt Zo Dicht Weg

‘U Voelt Zo Dicht Weg’- ‘You Feel So Close Away’

Reading back helps me understand sometimes, but first, it has to be written. Sometimes, struggling with what to think of feel about a certain event I long to write ‘something intelligent’ about the matter. Hoping that words will help me understand something that feels quite uncertain. In fact, this is also how I pray sometimes. I hope that somehow I could address some meaningful words to God, to connect when I feel disconnected. Sometimes this happens and sometimes it does not. And so to improve my meditation on the words I could address to God, I decided to sew a prayer. I started embroidering with my sewing machine again a few days ago and after some trials, i thought of combining the meditation of sewing and praying. I started to sew: God, U bent hier, maar u voelt zo- (meaning god, you are here but you feel so- ), I  wanted to continue to sew  ‘ver weg’ (meaning ‘Far away’) however, wandering in my mind I started to write Dicht ‘(meaning: close’). To be honest to my first intention I decided to compromise: I finished with ‘weg’. resulting in : ‘U voelt zo dicht weg’- ‘You feel so close away’. It is not correct dutch or English and a word play between far away and close by, yet this felt like something very intelligent to write. It is beautiful and also helped me to understand how I was feeling these past days- not necessarily about God but about some things around me. These things felt ‘away’ but at the same time to close to let go. To remember what I wrote, I restitched the last part of my prayer: ‘U voelt zo dicht weg’. I pinned it to the wall to remember that something letting go of thoughts and accidentally straying can give beautiful insights.

 

All the wrong reasons

DSC03964

Imran Qureshi- on the rooftop of the Metropolitain Museum in 2013

When I started this blog, it was out of procrastination. I think around that time I also watched all of the Game of Thrones seasons available for the first time. I was making immense progress in doing what I wanted (write) and what others thought I should do (watch game of thrones).  I did all of it for the reason that I found it very hard to focus on the task at hand, undoubtedly some writing or assignment for school. You could say easily, I was doing it for the wrong reasons. A little while ago I was having an honest conversation with someone. For the sake of  ‘What do we loose by being honest’ we both honestly shared what we were feeling. Our doubts. The feeling that we were doing things for the wrong reasons. I met this vulnerability with honesty again, honesty and affirmation. ‘I think indeed you are doing this for the wrong reasons’. Based on this the conclusion the other wanted to draw was that the only right thing to do is to stop doing what they were doing because they were obviously for the wrong reason. I simply said, I do think there is something like doing something for the wrong reason, yet I don’t think it is the worse thing. It is often just a copings mechanism- we become aware of where this coping mechanism has brought us, and we see what it brought us and others. True, sometimes doing things at the wrong time for the wrong reasons can mean great harm. But I refuse to life in a world were everything is supposed to be right or it is doomed. A in a long conversation about the meaning of life a few weeks ago, the person I was talking with was sharing his view of life. ‘The purpose of life is to what is perfect for you, where you can be most effective and happy, mind over matter.’ I was trying to say that efficiency although a great love of mine (nothing as frustrating than things going wrong when some efficiency could have stop them from happening), it did not do justice to human life. Humans, although we have the gift and the ability of reason, are very unreasonable creatures :). We have emotions, we have desires, we have hope, we have faith, we have love. All of that is not very efficient. Connection, is not very efficient. Human connection is made through simple biology- blood, and then blood is family. Being somewhere at the same time provides us with friends, lovers, enemies. With every connection we make we are changed. Our heart is met with that of another, and we change, whether we are open to it or not. Now, this is not some argument for that everything is equal, that the only purpose in life is meeting others and in that way moving on. I think the world is very bleak when we lose a sense of right and wrong, purpose and suffering. However, what I am trying to say, to convey, to celebrate is the complexity of life. That there is no one answer to human behavior, how to improve or to judge it.

This perhaps becomes most clear in the bible. Sure, this book teaches us about God, but it mostly teaches us about ourselves, about our nature, about others. And I don’t mean necessarily the great doctrine, original sin, or men as the great custodian of the world. I mean the stories, the little things. The completely ridiculous things that are so relatable. The struggle with what is right, the struggle to see our own wrongs, the judgment we carry for ourselves and others, the endless discussions we have about the meaning of the things in our lives. How we can walk with God and still not really know if we believe in him, or want to believe in him. The need for salvation. But this need is for salvation is only based on honesty. On honesty and honoring of God. The ‘I am broken, I am not complying to the modern worlds demand of efficiency, but I made something, I wrote something, and it is proof of your grace’. That You make beautiful things out of dust, out of us. A prove that God is so much more loving than we are: ‘You’re much sweeter than me, by far, You’re much stronger than me, You know You are’

‘So far my dramatic writing of the day, have to give credit to some ‘you make beautiful things out of the dust/out of us, comes from Gungor’s song ‘Beautiful things’. Similarly the ‘You’re much sweeter than me by far, you are much stronger than me, you know you are’ is from the wonderful Aaron Sprinkle. Also, I have to give credit to all the wonderful people around me that no matter what they believe teach me about the grace of God. And lastly, my thesis that desperately needs some work. I wouldn’t be living on the edge without you :).