I wonder if Jonah was an anxious human. I wonder if when the word of God spoke to the prophet from beyond his barriers, Jonah seized up in panic attacks and in terror. Did he long to hear the “fear not!” that so often preludes the voice of God? Did his heart clench in his chest and his hands begin to shake?
Did he run away with the thought that “when I get further down from God, it will be better than this?” Did each step further away provide a slight release of the pressure of anxiety of God’s call to go up to Ninevah? When he saw the ship in the distance, was there an ah-ha! moment of “Oh Thank God--! A Way Out!” Maybe he thought he could move across countries away from his problems and his mental health and the plan that God has for him.
When he got on the boat, did the sailors wonder, Who is this foreigner? Did they clutch their dice within their pockets, or rub the deck in the certain pattern that their superstitions have demanded for decades as he stepped on board and they were outward bound? And when God threw the storm at the ship, did they glance sideways at each other, and at the newcomer, holding his legs up against his chest, hiding behind the barrels in the corner? As the storm grew worse, I wonder if their own panic grew, too. As they battened down the hatches and took turns at the helm, was it a hard decision to draw straws to see who is the cause of all this panic?
I wonder if Jonah’s sleep in the storm was his coping mechanism for the internal storm that raged in his anxiety. Did he say to him self, “if I sleep, then this will all go away.” Did he vision a hope for calm? Was there a tiny release of pressure in his dreams, a harbor of refuge from the storm? I wonder if avoiding the conflict of what might happen in Ninevah, pretending that there is no conflict at all, was even possible for him.
When the sailors pulled out the lots to find the source, did Jonah’s heart begin to race? Did his face turn red in shame, and his hands begin to shake again? Did the anxiety overwhelm him, rendering him incapable of movement? And when the short straw landed in front of him, and they demanded answers of him for why, did his vision glaze over and return him to the truth of who he was, causing him to state his identity and beliefs? When he said, “I am a Hebrew, and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and dry land” did the sailors gasp with superstition and fear when they realized that Jonah was running away?
And as the waves crashed on the deck and the wind blew the tiny boat around in the huge sea, as the storm raged with anger unabated, did a calm come over Jonah as he knew what they had to do? Did he see their attempts to row back in to shore with quiet awareness that it would do no good? And when the men lifted him and tossed him down, was his anxiety numbed in anticipation of the coming end?
Was the fall from the boat and into the water more of an easy float down? And was there a comfort in the moments where Jonah laid on his back, looking skyward into the rain and the wind, the water surrounding him and holding him up, fully? While the ship sailed away and he was alone, did he hum quietly to himself, hymns he’s know for years that have eased his anxiety...?
And as the fish swam beneath him, water currents foreshadowing his fate, did Jonah close his eyes? As the waters closed over him and the deep surrounded him in the heart of the seas, did he hold himself close?
I wonder if he thought of comforting things, thinking back about his life, his family, his home, his friends.... I wonder if, as the mouth of the fish swallowed him up, he offered up his complete submission to his anxieties and to his God. I wonder if from that place of odd calm, he found himself in the belly of the fish, surrounded by flesh and warm, away from the the storm of life, away from the coming conflicts and the task that lies in front of him-- I wonder if in that place he was able to clearly see past his own mental blocks and the truth before him.
Maybe as the pulse of the being that carried him along gave a rhythm to his prayer, he offered up his supplication, his submission, his sure awareness that his secret circumvention of God’s task must now end. I wonder if from that emotional space of calm, in the belly of the fish, there is where Jonah prayed, offering his resignation to his duty, his surrender to the will of the Lord your God. From where did the quiet prayer come, when Jonah whispered from the fish, “As my life was ebbing away, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple....”
and with what power of resolve and understanding did he finally assert, “...But I, with the voice of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you; ...what I have vowed, I will pay.” ? And when the fish surged towards shore, what relief was there, as Jonah came up for air, to Ninevah, to God?
More than Jonah’s storm, I wonder if, in another storm, in another time, that calm was still present. Maybe in another storm, in another time, the disciples wondered if they had angered God in some way, while another man slept on. I wonder if their anxiety ate away at them. I wonder if when they reached out, it was from their panic they called out “Don’t you CARE!?”
I wonder, too, if the calm that surpasses all understanding held them afloat, in that moment, when God embodied awoke, and looked upon them, and called to the storm, Peace. Be Still. And when they left that boat, I wonder if their direction was just a little clearer, their path a little more defined, and their faith a little stronger.
What will happen when the winds of life pick up? The ship we sail starts to shake? What will happen when the way we have been going for so long seems to no longer work as we want it to? What happens when our anxiety speaks louder than the voice of God within us? How does God reach out in all of these moments to call us home, bring us calm, and bring us up once again?
I don’t know. But perhaps that answer is somewhere within the words, “Peace. Be Still.”