The 7 Non-Spiritual Gifts of Jonah

So, let’s start with what should be obvious: the story of Jonah and the “whale” is fiction. Sorry if that shatters your illusions. We don’t even have any clue when it was written or by whom. The good news is that there are many messages that can be gleaned from the story, nonetheless.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

As I researched Jonah and worked on my message this week, I came to like Jonah more and more. One would expect a prophet to be beyond the reach of us ordinary human beings. One would expect that they would be completely in tune with the Divine and even exhibit the “fruit of the Spirit” that Paul talks about in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Instead, I found that Jonah displayed seven clearly non-spiritual “gifts”, he was angry, pouty, whiny, aloof, stubborn, petty and defiant. But this truly endeared Jonah to me because he was just so human!

You see, in the story, God tells Jonah (an Israelite and devout Jew) to go to Nineveh (the Israelite’s arch enemy) and warn them to change their ways or be destroyed. That would be like each of us being asked to help, be nice to, or pray for someone who has personally hurt us or those closest to us. I’m sort of ashamed to say that I’d probably be right there with Jonah running the other way. Who wants to help someone who has hurt them?

After the debacle with the big fish (often portrayed as a whale), Jonah relents, but not happily. JonahWhy? Because he doesn’t want the Ninevites to be forgiven. He wants them to suffer. He’d be happy if God would smote them. Jonah, unlike other prophets who don’t want to bring calamity to people, doesn’t want to bring God’s love. And he still does his best not to. Jonah gives them all of a 5 word (in Hebrew) warning. He doesn’t tell them who he is or who the warning is from, and much to his chagrin, the entire city – people and animals – don sackcloth and ashes and repent.

Now Jonah is really angry with God. He goes outside the city gates and pouts, wishes he were dead. Even after God tries to help Jonah to see how ridiculous he is being and why God loves these people, we are left not knowing what happens to Jonah. Will he learn and change and perhaps become more understanding and compassionate? Or will he remain outside the city gates, arms folded against the people of Nineveh and refusing to participate in the work of a loving God?

This was the message for me this week. In any given situation I can find myself angry, pouty, whiny, aloof, stubborn, petty or defiant (not pretty, but there you have it). Is that really where I want to be? Standing against the work of a loving God who desires healing, abundance and wholeness for all people (even the ones I can’t stand)? It’s a growing edge for me, and probably always will be.

In this expanse of time and space we are each a small incarnation of a great love. I know very little for certain, but I firmly believe that the very essence of who we are – under the layers of wounding, baggage, pride and ego – is love. Period. To be who we are is to live from that place of love and participate in the loving work of the Divine. This is our brief time to learn to let go of anger, pouting, whining, stubbornness, aloofness, pettiness and defiance – not just with our family, friends and spiritual communities, but everywhere, with everyone. This is transformational. This is what I want to be remembered for. I may not be perfect, but I will keep trying.



Bless the Mess

How comfortable are you with chaos?

Chaos – messiness, struggle, difficulty –  happens in our lives. Sometimes it is worse than others. creationSometimes it goes on for a really long time. Your answer to my first question probably gives you some idea as to how well you handle those times.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

In Genesis 1, our world is born from chaos, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. But the earth became chaos and emptiness, and darkness came over the face of the Deep – yet the Spirit of God was brooding over the surface of the waters.

I love the image of the Spirit, brooding over, watching over, caring for, incubating creation. We tend to think of chaos as negative, but perhaps it is simply part of the process of transformation. Rob Bell has pointed out that the Judeo-Christian creation narrative is uniquely hopeful. Unlike many other ancient creation myths of that era that depict the earth and it’s creatures being born in the midst of violence and destruction, Genesis portrays a scene of “overflowing joy and creativity.” The Spirit/Sophia/Wisdom hovers over the chaos patiently waiting, incubating, and brings forth something beautiful and amazing.

What happens when we don’t deal well with chaos, but insist on control and order? I can understand wanting a place for everything and everything in its place, but I believe that sometimes when we stand rigidly, trying to tightly control events around us, it denies the creative power of the Spirit within and around us.

This may be a silly example, but I think it makes the point. I usually start my weeks with a fairly clean office. As the week goes on, it gradually progresses into a state of chaos. Multiple books lay open, or piled, on my desk and on the floor. Papers are alternately strewn or piled up. Colored markers have found their way out of their box to add splashes of color as they lay here and there. I’ve come to enjoy this descent into chaos, because I can feel the creativity of the Spirit swirling around me. I trust this chaos to be creative and I need to learn to trust the same chaos in the rest of my life as not signaling ruination and desolation, but change, growth and creative transformation.

I have the most trouble with my sermons when I try to force a certain direction. I’ve learned over the years that when I start to get uptight and stressed because it isn’t coming together, clearly I’ve lost the flow and am trying too hard. So, I get up and do something mindless to try to reset myself. This week I was sitting with a cup of tea, staring out the window, silently invoking the help of the Spirit and my library angels, and I suddenly felt like I’d found the flow of the sermon.

The Spirit, God, our Higher Self, the Source… desires to work in our lives with “overwhelming joy and creativity.” Our challenge is to change our perspective so that we don’t see chaos as negative, but as a creative, transformative power. We need to learn to trust our deepest intuition, to trust that sometimes the spirit must brood over the waters of chaos in our lives before we finally see the beautiful creation.

Sit back, bless the mess, stop trying to force, and go with the flow.



The Magi’s Lesson for the New Year

Tomorrow is Epiphany. The AHA! day for the magi. The three wise men, or kings have become iconic figures in Christianity. Never mind that we don’t really know that they were men, or that there were three of them, or that they were riding camels. And “magi” does not automatically equal “king”, it is much closer to astrologer.

(For the full audio version, click here.)

Still, limiting this story to a literal interpretation does us a huge disservice. Metaphorically, the story of the magi bringing gifts to the baby Jesus holds a multitude of much richer and more meaningful lessons, if only we’d take the time to look. Allow me to focus on one as we enter the New Year, it is that wonderful, clichéd phrase: “taking the road less traveled.”road-less-traveled

If we put ourselves in line with those humble visitors to the stable to see the newborn babe, that puts us in the company of shepherds and magi. The shepherds had an amazing supernatural encounter with very talkative angels who announced the glorious birth of the child Jesus and told them to hightail it over to Bethlehem where they’d find him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. The magi, however, had nothing more than an un-talkative star, guiding them through the darkness of unfamiliar lands, to an uncertain outcome. Yet they were compelled to go, to risk, to seek. Because they persevered, they were finally able to witness to the in-breaking of the Divine into this world.

We may long to be like the simple shepherds, charged with a clear, simple task: find the revelation of God, honor it, share it, and cherish it. But waiting for a heavenly gaggle of angels to appear seems a long shot. The reality is that we are more often like the magi… having to risk walking (or perhaps stumbling) in the darkness, seeking, hopeful, watching for signs and taking calculations on the correct route. Getting turned around when we lose sight of the light, and then trying again.

The problem is that we don’t like to risk. We don’t like uncertain outcomes. And we definitely don’t like to be uncomfortable. We prefer our easy chair, our routine, our no-surprises life. We get caught up in the little, slippery voice of fear that doesn’t want to be uncomfortable, or unsure, or in a new situation. We tell ourselves we’re just homebodies so that we don’t have to risk, meet new people, try new things. I’m sorry, but that limits the options for God breaking into our lives.

On the other hand, the Divine voice says, do not be afraid to be alive. Do not be afraid to venture forth to places unknown and things untried. Let go of the need for fixed answers, for known outcomes. The Divine Voice says go forth and live… love… be free. Do not let others’ expectations or ideas of who you should be keep you from living. Do not let your own fears keep you from living.

The New Year many choices, many different directions, many unexplored paths. How will we choose? What voice guides us?

New opportunities may take us down paths that are fun and adventurous. It could be a new restaurant, trip to somewhere you’ve never been, a party where you won’t know anyone, parachuting, art class, dancing lessons… they change us, they open us to the larger world, they give us more places to see the Divine.

Sometimes the voice of the divine invites us down even less traveled and perhaps more treacherous roads. These paths lead us to do things like seek forgiveness,reach out for help, help another, give forgiveness, and let go. No one can know where these will lead or what the outcome, but we can trust that God is with us in the darkness seeking to create something beautiful.

And then there are those times when we must risk the scariest paths, those that will change our lives forever. Yes, these roads are scary. Yes, they always take us into the darkness for a time. And, yes, we long to run whimpering back to our easy chair. But, if we trust our Source, and listen to the Divine voice of aliveness, instead of the voice of fear, we will be led to an amazing in-breaking of God in our lives in ways that we can’t even begin to guess.

This year, let’s not follow the voices of fear, but the voices that lead us to aliveness and a deeper knowing of the Divine.