Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant.
I live in a leafy place. My life is surrounded by the color green. A 175 foot tall Sitka Spruce tree towers above our home, planted over 700 years ago, with its trunk just 20 feet from our back door. Some evenings, as I’m kicking back on our deck, I look up and up and up into the green of our grandfather spruce tree waiting to see the last rays of the setting sun catch the top branches on golden fire.
Jonah also waits. Jonah waits for fire to fall from the sky. Behind his waiting eyes is an angry heart, an arid soul, dried and devoid of compassion. Jonah hopes destruction will fall upon the ancient city of Nineveh. He hates the people of Nineveh. Why? The Assyrian empire represented by its capital city of Nineveh had attacked and dominated dozens of countries across the Middle East, including Jonah’s people, with brutal military force and overwhelming power.
So Jonah plunks himself down in a front row seat waiting for the big show. In the face of the stifling heat of the midday sun, Jonah makes himself a little shelter and sits down in his self-made shade to wait for God to destroy his enemies. He only has a few more weeks to wait. “40 more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.”
Months earlier, God told Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach against the city, because Nineveh’s wickedness had come up against God. After a totally disastrous beginning, Jonah finally obeys. But Jonah is even more pathetic in obedience that he was in disobedience. At least when disobedient, Jonah had compassion for the sailors on deck of the doomed ship. Now, Jonah’s compassion has run dry. He wants vengeance for people of the doomed city. Jonah hopes for many people to die. In Jonah’s view, the total annihilation of the people of Nineveh is the only future hope for Jonah’s people. Tribalism at its worst, Jonah has set his heart on genocide.
God sets his heart on compassion. Even in the smallest details, God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Recently, I attended a training seminar to learn to better care for people who have gone through domestic violence and abuse. The trainer, a compassionate Christian woman, asked us to pay attention to our inner “grace-O-meter”, that inner gauge we all have that tells us how gracious or judgmental we are towards others. Various factors move our needle towards grace or condemnation towards others.
While Jonah waits for fire to fall from heaven on the hated city, God provides his prophet the gift of green. A leafy plant grows up overhead, providing shelter for Jonah. This gift is given to “ease Jonah’s discomfort.” God loves to surprise us with little gifts of comfort in times of stress. Jonah throws together a make-shift shelter of “found-objects” likely pulled from the nearest garbage pile. God grows together a little piece of paradise, a green, leafy plant, cooling down the place where Jonah is sitting and waiting. Jonah is very happy about the plant. While Jonah fumes with anger at God, Jonah’s God quietly provides a lovely greening gift for his chosen prophet.
As I’ve written in a soon to be published book on soul mentoring, “Nine centuries ago, St Hildegard described the human soul renewed by God as ‘all verdant greening.’ The greening of the human soul occurs when people have regular access to the source of life refreshment in God with the guidance of a wise mentor, an experience Hildegard describes as viriditas, the greening or rejuvenation of the human soul in communion with God. Hildegard drew upon the wisdom of St Gregory from five centuries earlier, as Constant J. Mews and Claire Renkin write, ‘A key concept in her thinking was that of viriditas, the green life-force of divine origin that underpinned creation—a term that occurs no fewer than 56 times in [Gregory’s] Moralia on Job.’
At this moment in Jonah’s life, he’s completely clueless that God has chosen to give him this beautiful gift of greening. Jonah’s waiting for fire to fall. Such waiting is tedious. I know very few people who are good at it. Waiting for doomsday is hard work. We are hard-wired for love. We are made in the image of the God of love. Deep down, we desire compassion for all people, not just for those we like or love. When we expend energy condemning others, we drain our lives of soul refreshment and become like arid, desert land.
St. Hildegard understood God’s lovely gift the “greening of the soul”, seeking ways to help discover soul refreshment through prayer, meditation, song, and creativity. I love that phrase, the “greening of the soul”, viriditas, a life full of vitality like a verdant pastureland, because when we regularly find drinking water of wisdom welling up within our souls, God’s greening will arise like a leafy plant, covering our lives, and flowing out of our inmost being into the lives of others who are thirsty for refreshment.
Middle North Falls at Silver Falls State Park, near Silverton, Oregon. Silver Creek cascades 106 feet over this waterfall to create this veil of water and gorge below in Silver Falls State Park, Oregon.
 Latin–Viriditas: greening or vitality. See Uhlein, Meditations With Hildegard of Bingen, 8.
 Mews and Renkin, from their essay, The Legacy of Gregory the Great in the Latin West, quoted from Bronwen, A Companion to Gregory the Great, 334.