Belly of the Whale
Standing inside Chapel Dulcinea recently, I looked up to see the great ribs beneath the roof beams above me and thought, “Jonah in the belly of the whale.” Do you remember the story? It's only four short chapters, a 5-minute read. The next morning, Princess Pennie went back to Dulcinea with me and we sat together while I read the book of Jonah aloud. Somehow, it felt like the right thing to do.
Let me summarize it for you: Running from God, Jonah boards a ship headed in the opposite direction from the place he knew he was supposed to go. (Have you ever rebelled, brazenly, from what was expected of you by someone else?) And then a storm came. (Somehow they always do.) Thrown overboard, Jonah is swallowed by “a great fish” in whose belly he reevaluates his priorities and finds his soul again. Jonah's time of reflection and prayer in the belly of the beast is a marvelous thing to read. The fish then vomits Jonah unceremoniously onto the beach. (Ever been unceremoniously barfed by circumstances following a storm that hugely kicked your ass? Me too.) Now this is where the story gets interesting to me: Jonah, having survived the crisis, finally does what he should, but with a really bad attitude. The tale ends with Jonah being unbelievably petty and small, a pale shadow of the giant he had been during his time in the belly of the beast.
Evidently, I'm not the only person who can go from high thoughts to low thoughts in a very short period of time. And neither are you.
Interestingly, Jonah's pendulum swing was the inverse of Elijah's. Whereas Jonah went from high thoughts in the belly of the beast to low thoughts during his mission, Elijah went from high thoughts during his mission on the top of Mount Carmel (where he called down fire from heaven to burn up an offering to God in front of a huge crowd of witnesses,) to low thoughts immediately after his triumph. “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went a day's journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. 'I have had enough, LORD ,' he said. 'Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.' Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.” When Elijah awakened, he went to spend some time in a cave at Mount Horeb. Read the 19th chapter of 1st Kings and you'll recognize another belly, another whale.
Every caterpillar must go into the cocoon if she will spread her newfound wings.
Some will find Chapel Dulcinea to be the belly of the whale, a place for reflection in times of crisis. Others will find Dulcinea to be the cave at Horeb, a place to regain their balance after riding an emotional rollercoaster. For thousands of young couples, Dulcinea will be the cocoon from which will emerge the two-winged butterfly of marriage. But always it will be a place of transformative change.
No one but Pennie knew that I was contemplating the book of Jonah and the value of reflection, so it came as a soft surprise when Bryan Eisenberg forwarded to me a quote he thought I might find interesting: “The Internet radically redefines a person's psychological relationship to time and space. Attention is riveted on what is tangible, useful, instantly available; the stimulus for deeper thought and reflection may be lacking. Yet human beings have a vital need for time and inner quiet to ponder and examine life and its mysteries… Understanding and wisdom are the fruit of a contemplative eye upon the world, and do not come from a mere accumulation of facts, no matter how interesting.” – Pope John Paul II, Sunday, May 12, 2002
I hope you don't mind that I chose to share with you something less tangible and instantly useful this week.
Roy H. Williams
PS – As I suspected might happen, last week's comments about David Ogilvy and our decreasing national attention span triggered quite a flap among the cognoscenti.