From inside the fish Jonah prayed…I have been banished from your sight… – Jonah 2:1
My mentor, Abbot Peter recently said (and I will butcher it), “We want life to feel much like a path but it more often than not it feels like being in the belly of a fish.”
The belly of the fish was where Jonah met his need and where he met God. It was in the belly of the fish Jonah said the one thing he’d needed to say this all along, I have been banished from Your sight.
Was it true Jonah was not seen by God? No. But to Jonah, yes, it was true. And to be honest, that is what matters most about prayer, not that we say what is ultimately true but that we confess the lies we’ve assumed to be true.
What fish belly do you find yourself in? What chaotic, confusing, emotionally flooded or emotionally numb state do you find consuming your life? What is the hope which seem to be endlessness deferred? What is the lie that just feels too true to be false? Whatever your “fish” remember it was IN the fish Jonah met God – it was in the waiting and suffering of the darkness Jonah discovered the light and healing of God.
Jonah 2:10 says, “And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomitted Jonah onto dry land.”
Jesus once told a curious fellow, “…no one can see the Kingdom of God unless he is born again.” And I would add that we can’t be born again until we die again.
You see, the fish is the place of simultaneous death and life. They exist together in a confusing, painful tandem but when we meet our crucified and resurrected Jesus, the Jesus who both strips us and clothes us, beckons us to die and raises us to new life, we meet the Jesus of the Gospels – the one we call Emmanuel, God with Us.
The fish, the womb, the wilderness, the dark night of the soul – all are metaphors for where God is and is not. Advent is the season where God is but also where God is not (or at least God is not where we expect him to be). And often what it means for God to be with us in this season is to allow ourselves to experience his absence before we start gasping for his presence. Like Jonah we must allow our lives to be formed by the dark, damp loneliness of the fish’s belly. We know these season have so much to offer but so often we want to be “spit out” without ever confessing or even meeting our deepest needs.
Advent is a season of waiting, hoping, longing and expecting and because we know how the story goes we are tempted to jump to Christmas where finally Christ is revealed. This Advent I am going to sit in the belly and allow myself to feel the discomfort and absence – whether it is the absence of God or my own absence from myself. I’m going to trust God to show up and meet me where I am because frankly I’ve exhausted myself trying to get to where God is.
This Advent let us remember God is with us far more than we are with God, so as the Apostle Paul invites us in Hebrews, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace [the belly of the fish] with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit Amen.