Before the beginning, there was only God. God both existed and did not exist, and God filled every space and yet was nothing at all, for there was no space or time. God had no names because there were no relationships, only the one God neither big nor small, alone in all that was not created.
Once, as God breathed in, a tiny hole began to grow. It was a place! This was the first place. God considered the place and realized that with place came space and the potential for creation, distance, mass, objects with texture, activity with movement, sense, even life itself. And God made the world with all that and even more!
The creation was magnificent. There were vast distances in the space, punctuated by galaxies, filled with bright stars, massive planets of every sort, and on at least one of the planets there was life! God began to feel things: pride, excitement, hope, but also loneliness. Everything in creation was in relationship except God. Another very special thing must be made, a thing of joy to continue the work of creation, and so God made a human and gave it being. The human being walked and made sounds like the other animals, but something wasn’t quite right and so God breathed again, right into the human being, and on the strength of God’s own breath a spark of divinity broke off and entered the human being to begin its journey in the world of creation.
Like the protagonist in today’s story, the divinity boarded its human ark and set out with strength and the knowledge that it was a thing of joy, co-creating the still-new world. Other human beings were made. God cherished the human beings because they were the one bit of creation that contained a part of God’s own self. But soon darkness encroached and the enfleshed divinity began to forget its mission and soon after that, another thing was created: Questions. At first, the spark of divinity tried to remember where it was, and why. But soon the questions became completely unrelated to the divine mission, they devolved into things like Ninevah or Tarshish? Love or resentment? Friend or enemy? Gratitude for this vine, or continued fussiness? Having made many missteps, the divine mission was forgotten, and the divine spark turned its back on the creation and went down into itself.
Onward through the waves of fear and tribulation, the little ark of humanity went, its divinity stowed safely in its very deepest parts, almost forgotten. As the voyage continued, though, the waves began to grow, the earth sojourn became choppy, existence itself was in peril. The wind howled messages of fear, waves of panic besieged the human beings on their ark of humanity and so something else had to be created: Sacrifice.
Humanity raced around the decks of life wondering what had gone wrong, and looking for someone to blame! There was a faint memory that it was drawn here to this fleshy ark for a reason… but, what is it? Some whiff of divinity was still in the air when someone said, “Go wake up the soul! This is God’s fault,” and soon the divine life on earth was roused from a deep sleep and brought up on deck. Chaos, which had been created very early on, reigned. Lots were drawn to see what should be sacrificed. When the lot fell to divinity everyone was distressed to think that such a lovely little thing could be the problem. But existence itself was on the line and the divinity that had come into the earth plane as a joyful co-creator was thrown overboard so that the rest of life could continue on smooth seas, for smooth sailing was now a God, easy going the supreme value.
Jonah — the divine life within — and with him all that was joyful and generative, went down out of the ship, down into the belly of a fish, which went down into the depths of the sea, which were covered in the dark darkness of a very dark night. The rest of life continued on the journey, the sun came out, the seas quieted, and all seemed right with the world again. There was ease, after all, surely a sign that the Gods were pleased. But, all that God had invested in the world, God’s own self, was buried in the darkness of the night, the sea, and the belly of the fish.
Having been roused from its sleep, divinity was now in the very strange position of having its being inside of a fish. Rubbing the sleep from its eyes and sort of coming back to life divinity did what it always does, it went in search of itself. We all have to find ourselves, after all. The divinity housed in Jonah began to pray, and not just any prayers. Divinity prayed the prayers of the Psalter, the prayers of the other human arks that had carried other souls through other seas, and joining the great chorus of divinity being human, Jonah began to remember.
“Ah, right,” he thought, “The Assyrians aren’t my enemy… I have no enemies. This darkness is not death… it is another kind of womb. My life is not over… it is eternal. I am a joyful co-creator with the one of whom I am a part.” This knowledge, of course, was too great for the fish to bear, for this knowledge can only be born by divinity, and the fish spit Jonah out. Out from the darkness of the fish, and the sea, and the night, Jonah continued his mission.
The Journey of Jonah was never characterized by smooth seas, or easy going. His first choices for destinations, after all, were Jaffa and Tarsis whose names mean beauty and wealth. But those were just side trips.
Throughout his journey in the earth plane, Jonah both remembered and forgot who he was and what his divine mission was, just as we do. Mainly he had hard times. Mostly he brought hard times upon himself, though there’s no accounting for that fish and the storm. Maybe this is why the writer did not give the story a smooth ending, it’s not wrapped up all tidy and neat as we would prefer. In the very end of Jonah’s story, we find him disgruntled as usual about the fate of a vine which had withered. Also, as usual, he complained to God about it. Why would God, who had made the vine, then wither the vine? What had the vine ever done to God after all? But, God turned it around on Jonah, as God sometimes does, asking “But what about the people of Nineveh?” God showed Jonah that while he had cared only for a vine, God cared for people. God loved everyone, even the Assyrians of whom Jonah was surely not fond.
Did Jonah get it? Did he say, “You are right, O God. I failed to care for your creation and your people,” or did he walk off, once more forgetting who he was and why he was there, turning into himself and going to sleep? We don’t know about Jonah, but we can ask some questions of ourselves.
Where are you on your own life’s journey? Having arrived in your body, can you remember where you came from and why you’re here? It’s hard, but that’s why we have these stories, to remind us.
Is the divine part of your life sleeping in the hold of the ship while you are buffeted about with high seas and fear? Have you given up and thrown God overboard? Maybe you are on a side-trip to beauty and wealth. Are you praying to be let out of the belly of despair and hopelessness which is the only logical response to the world? Or, maybe the renewed knowledge of your divine mission is too much for the world you live in and you’ve been spit out. You can see that there are no good options here, there will be no smooth sailing. The life of a God-bearer is not easy.
The good news is that ease is not your God, smooth sailing is not a virtue, nor indicative of blessing. In fact, smooth sailing is the province of those who have sacrificed their true nature and abandoned the mission.
If times are hard, you might be on the divine path. If the sun is scorching, and the night dark, if the belly of despair is where you live, then there’s hope! Your mission was never to sail on smooth seas… You are far, far too divine for that!
Linda McMillan lives in YangZhong China… at least for now.