‘The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head at the roots of the mountains’. Jonah 2.5-6
During Lent this year at St Andrew's, Rugby, we will be looking in-depth at the story of Jonah and the whale (or rather, big fish). Our reading of the whole book (it is short) during our 10.30am Sunday communion services in Lent will be complemented by a textile exhibition. The exhibition is called Rivers of Life and is brought to us by the Deo Gloria Trust; the work is produced by textile artist Jacqui Frost. In the work Jacqui explores the way in which water is used in the Bible as a metaphor and illustration of our spiritual lives. Of course Lent itself is about entering into the desert. It is in the desert that we encounter real thirst and, it is hoped, our longing and desire for God is purified by such an experience, but of course that is not inevitable. Our Christian journey begins with abundance of water (baptism) but as Jesus experienced, sooner or later the Holy Spirit will lead us into more testing landscapes. It is important that we prepare ourselves for the task. What happens to Jonah when he finds himself in the large fish? He has been saved but also captured – he is stuck, and that probably sums up his attitude toward God. He is stuck in his relationship with God – God won’t let him go but he has to work out whether he will co-operate; if he cant, he will remain stuck – in God’s hands, but nowhere to go. Have you ever felt like that? You know that you are somehow in God’s hands but you are frustrated and confused. Jonah finds that God continues to upset his notions of how things should work out and therefore his story is a very helpful one for those of us who similarly find life with God frustrating and challenging, and yet, we can’t let go. The image of Jonah at the end of the story sitting under the bush cursing God encourages us to reflect on how we approach God’s ways and actions in the world. How often do we understand what God is doing? How often is our anger at God at odds with his sense of justice?
An honest Christian journey seems to me to be one that is fraught with questions, frustrations and confusion. There is no easy way in Christianity to tie up all the loose ends, to reconcile the problems. It is a religion that requires us to get stuck in, to make it up as we go along, to rile against the injustices and to pray for mercy. But, mercy directed towards others (as Jonah found out) can often feel like an absence of justice. And there is the rub – God’s rule doesn’t often feel right to us. Perhaps therefore sitting uncomfortably is what it’s all about and so my prayer for you (and us) this Lent, is that, it is uncomfortable for you, in all the ways that God would want it to be! (notwithstanding the new pew cushions).
River of Life Exhibition St Andrew’s Church, Ash Wed 1st March – Tuesday 28th March (free entry).