Advent with the Prophet Jonah: Day 22

Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.”

Jonah 4:6-8

First in these verses I am struck by God’s kindness to Jonah, seeking to “ease his discomfort” from the heat even in the midst of Jonah’s temper. Then I am struck by what seems petulant of God – to strike the plant and make the weather even hotter. Somehow I think I would be more comfortable with God never giving Jonah the plant than by Him giving it then taking it away. To human eyes, Jonah’s anger over this at least makes sense: he has felt the comfort of God’s presence with him and then the burning discomfort of God’s presence against him. In Advent we might ask the challenging but necessary question: is God-with-us always a source of comfort? For Jonah, it seems to be both; and I think that’s the point.

God will explain Himself to Jonah at the end of this chapter, and so we won’t preempt the answer yet. As I hope we’ve seen again and again in the book of Jonah, there’s great value in taking Jonah’s story as he experiences it, step by step. And this step – of feeling angry at God for the seeming inconsistency of His actions towards us – is something that many of us no doubt can relate to, little though we might like to focus on it. It makes us uncomfortable because it is unpredictable; it is outside our control. We are happy to give things up to God’s control if we can predict what God can do. But, as we’ve seen in Jonah’s story, we aren’t just content with that: we often think we can dictate to God the terms and choose to opt out of His will (sail in the opposite direction) if we predict what He will do (save Nineveh) and don’t like it much. Which means, in reality, that we don’t want to surrender to God at all. We only want Him as a means to our own ends.

Trusting in an all-powerful God does not mean trusting in our ability to predict, and understand, His actions. Trusting in a good God doesn’t involve that either. If God knows all, and is perfectly good, then our imperfect, incomplete minds will often hit against a failure to understand what He is doing. If He were to always act on our terms, He wouldn’t be all-powerful or perfectly good. He wouldn’t save Nineveh. He wouldn’t save us either. He might be predictable, but in the end we would not like the result.

It’s much less comfortable, much more unpredictable, trusting in God on His own terms. It means taking the shade and the scorching heat, the flourishing vine, the aggressive worm. It means accepting that God-with-us will be sometimes different to what we expect because His presence is not only providing for us but most of all growing us – to be more like Him. And in the end it means – least predictable of all – the wonder of grace.

Pruning

Against expectation, this
Spartan clipping makes spring flourish more,
this cutting back to bones,
to bare knobbly knuckles makes
growth more abundant when it comes.

And so we bear
the naked cruelty of these bare days,
knowing
against all experience,
trusting against
barren winter feeling,
enduring against
the buckling in our bones that wants to fall.

Lent: The Wait, the Weight 3

Held down by denial,
oppressed by oblivion,
as torrents break we fancy them a whirlpool.
Nothing prepares for this crisis of self,
when the spirit, crying, How long, how long?
hears instead the call to crawl
into the dust and weep.

To whom have You dealt thus?
Yet no better are we who bear Your name and smirk
than those who know no different.
Beneath Your wounds, this is joy:
the outcome sure,
where cross and crown stand interwoven.
Remember us, Jesus, when You return.
We remember Your cross, and wait.

Lent: Man of Sorrows 2

My God, my God:
head full of wounds, You cry.
My God, my God:
what rupture in the godhead
makes perfect veins now burst?
What depth of love plumbs so low
that even earth shakes at impact?

My God, my God, have mercy.
I wound my head and choose these depths;
yet, Man of Sorrows, You came down
that I might soar the heights with You.
If, dying now to self, I must
cry beside Your cross-shaped throne,
let me rejoice as well to know
what sorrows deck Your crown.

Lent: Man of Sorrows 1

What fuels my pride is nothing like
what You gave up – true God, true man –
when you bowed as low as bowing goes,
    as low as heaven spans.

What strikes my face is feather-like
beside the spear that pierced Your side;
my burdens roll onto the floor
     beside the death You bore.

What mercy waits, my God, my God,
at bleeding, nailed, twisted feet,
is life abundant; this is death
     which, dying, we call life.

Bursting Dimensions

Wassily Kandinsky, "Composition X" www.artchive.com
Wassily Kandinsky, “Composition X”
http://www.artchive.com

If you really believe,
then the day
and the dull of its light won’t confine
the dimensions of sight;
you may look through the night
and see there
the promise of Life.

Do you really believe?
On your way
through the frontiers of darkness and time,
you may feel all your might
leak out into the night,
yet the Word
will strengthen your sigh.

Therefore – really believe
for you may.
Though you leap in the dark, soon the sky
will erupt with true Light.
That day, yesterday’s plight
will be silent
at Faith’s firm reply.