Advent with the Prophet Jonah: Day 20

Are you right to be angry?
The question smarts like a slapped face.
Wrong wording.
Whether or not I am right, my anger
deserves the time of day.

So turn a sullen, smarting cheek.
Stare into the raging haze.
Grace taps your chipped shoulder.
Grace takes the heat from your brow,
yet inwardly you burn with a summer sun
that has no room for grace.

Advent with the Prophet Jonah: Day 14

This is the proclamation [the king] issued in Nineveh:

“By the decree of the king and his nobles:

Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

Jonah 3:7-9
It may be that -
after the hate and division
the sins of omission
the clickbait, the baiting -
at the end of our waiting

we find
that our foe
is kneeling beside us
and the walls once inside us
can crumble at Mercy's
soft subsonic shout

and Nineveh's ashes
Jerusalem's ashes
Washington's ashes
Australia's ashes

are as a fragrance poured forth
which I Am shall adore
and all of our knees
shall climb to the floor

and all shall be well
when Mercy beats hell
at the sound of ten thousand
knees hitting the ground.

Advent with the Prophet Jonah: Day 6

God of sea and dry land,
God of Nineveh, Bethlehem
and the belly of the whale,
God of heights, God of depths,
God of my darkest abyss:

I have made
myself my god.
I must

I have blocked the channels where
You reach me in my darkest hour.
I have clenched my fist to fight
in place of Your hand charged with life.
I must go I-don't-know-where
to find that You are everywhere.
I must enter deepest night
to find that You alone are Light.

Advent with the Prophet Jonah Day 3

Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.

But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, “How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.”

(Jonah 1:4-6)

Why is Jonah asleep? Often I’ve heard Biblical stories like this interpreted to demonstrate complacency or obliviousness: Jonah is asleep because he is not paying attention, spiritually dull. Perhaps this is the case. But, when I think of myself, I often go to sleep – physically or metaphorically – when I don’t want to talk to God. And often this is because I am angry, and I know that to talk to God I will need to let go of at least some of my anger. I can’t maintain all of my rage and also do the self-humbling that is necessary to pray. I know God well enough to not let loose with all my fury, but I’m not ready to unclench my fists enough to fold my hands in prayer.

It’s a guess, but an educated one, to suggest that this might be where Jonah is at here in the story. Certainly it fits with the Jonah we see later, angry enough to die because God has relented and not destroyed Nineveh like he hoped. Jonah knows, I’m sure, that he should have followed God’s command; he knows he shouldn’t be on this boat; he knows he is in the wrong. But he doesn’t want to think about it, because thinking about it would require humbling himself, and he’s not ready to do that. So he sleeps.

It strikes me how often I clench my fists in stress, as though I am ready to start punching at the first moment that it’s required of me. We cannot talk to God when we are like this, not properly. To talk to God, we need to stretch our fingers out, let go of our pent-up rage, and let Him be God while we are children before Him. Sometimes we even need to physically open our hands up before Him as an expression that we are ready to receive from Him whatever He has. But even this is humbling. Attention to God is humbling when all we want to do is listen to our own pre-recorded loops of internal rage.

Like Jonah, we need to be shaken awake and told, sometimes by the least expected of people, to stop hiding from God, huddled in our own fury, and to turn to Him instead – to turn in humility and wait.

Poem after a line from Auden

Prayer, like poetry, makes nothing happen,
if "make" means control
and "happen" means an instant, an event.
No incantations with prayer, no spells;
nor with poems. You leave
scratching your head,
ambivalent to what has transpired.
Sometimes forced, sometimes fluid,
never simple, unless void of all
meaning save the surface.
But prayer and poems both deal in depths;
they refuse surface and befuddle the hurried.
And poems, like prayers, work
with more than words,
sometimes in spite of them:
the conversation between words and rhythm,
movement and meaning,
soul and maker,
music in words
that moves hearts with fingerprints
always unseen.

Excerpt from “Plague Year”

But we venture on. Newness at least is in
the air, on Capitol Hill, in the fruit 
jumping out of trees. We cannot slow this
if we wanted to. Shopping aisles charge on
towards Christmas, while my heart craves Advent.
I could use the dark, the waiting, to bend
soul's joints back into shape, could use the long
silence to learn again to wait, to wish.
We have not yet traced the evil to the root,
nor will we. But our hearts may learn to sing
a purer song if they remember this:
the days we could not sing or hug or kiss,
the days we passed at home craving our home
where we are not apart and not alone.

Broken, new

Everything breaks,
is broken, or
sticks underfoot like porridge.
Voice grows tired, and
heart turns wild
at the endless, savage
price of love.
Crushed underfoot,
I learn Eden and Golgotha
while I wipe the floor again.
Body breaks, is broken,
tomorrow is new.

The Gospel Reading

The day had gone on long enough.
First the Pharisees and their questions,
then the intruding children,
then the camel and the needle's eye,

so that, when they cried out,
"Who then can be saved?" it was
as much from the weariness of the day's
debates as the thought that riches
could keep an earnest man from heaven.

And so, right when
all their careworn sandles seemed
not worth the effort, He looked
into eyes and said, "What's impossible
for man is possible for God."
What then? Could God lift
the labour-sick soul, and write
new possibility on its nature?

In the midst of the burden
and the striving, this truth:
Be small. Be like a child.
Be less so I may be more.