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In the belly of the fish with Jonah | Part 3: Shaped in darkness

Image by Rachel Yates

A series exploring the story of Jonah as a resource for nurturing a spirituality for mission

By Ian Adams, mission spirituality adviser for Church Mission Society. Image by Rachel Yates.

 

But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah;

and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

 

Jonah’s problems deepen.

Fast.

Thrown into the sea, he is snatched from the surface.

Dragged down into the abyss.

And for three days and for three nights

Jonah is in the belly of a large fish.

 

But the storyteller suggests that this event

may not be a disaster.

For the fish is somehow a gift, and will be the

means of God’s grace.

In this unwanted experience descent, loss and

darkness will become Jonah’s guides.

And the belly of the fish will become

– in the language of the early desert monastics –

the cell that will (if he is willing) teach him everything.

 

The darknesses we face are almost always unwelcome.

We would, of course, wish that there could be another way.

That we could always be in sunlight.

But sooner or later we all find ourselves caught in the

toughness of life,

dragged under, spiralling down.

And, as with Jonah, the descent threatens to overwhelm us.

 

The waters closed in over me;

the deep surrounded me;

weeds were wrapped around my head...

 

And yet, if we can, with Jonah

discover the courage to remain with the darkness

that has fallen upon us,

we may discover there the presence of God.

 

This paradoxical pattern has been a repeated discovery of the

Christian contemplatives over the centuries.

God’s real presence may be encountered in

God’s apparent absence.

Such a mystery.

And yet what a revelation.

If God were only to be encountered in

our moments of happiness and success,

how dark would be our darkness.

But God is in the darkness.

And may yet be found.

 

As my life was ebbing away,

I remembered the Lord;

and my prayer came to you,

into your holy temple.

 

Jonah’s great prayer-poem is one of hope

even in the most dire of circumstances.

Rooted in both his personal experience

and in the great faith story of his people.

And in a joyful epiphany, after three days and three nights,

he is able to speak of unimaginable salvation:

deliverance belongs to the Lord!

 

Jonah has been freed to play his part in God’s mission.

The healing and restoration of the people of Nineveh await.

All things are possible.

 

We will, of course, see how Jonah’s story may unfold.

But for now, the future is opening up.

And Jonah is thrown up onto dry land.

His journey resumes.

 

Lord, help me I pray

to find you even in the darkness

and so may I continue my journey into your life

and into your mission.