Jonah Project Week 21

Jonah 2:3 

You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. 

Several years ago, I read Nathaniel Philbrick’s masterful non-fiction book, In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex (Penguin Books; reissued in 2001). Philbrick’s bestselling book, with a title taken from Jonah 2:3, is being turned into a major motion picture directed by Ron Howard due out in March 2015. The Essex tragedy became the basis for Herman Melville’s great American novel, Moby Dick, published in 1851.Thirty-two years earlier, in 1819, twenty crew members set sail from Nantucket aboard the whaling ship Essex, rounding Cape Horn, bound for the South Pacific where the Essex sank in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, after being rammed by an 80 foot sperm whale in 1820. Perhaps sensing the threat to its survival and the lives of its own kind, that great mammal rammed the Essex over and over until it sank into the heart of the sea. The crew boarded three lifeboats, drifting upon the open sea for over three months, facing hardships of hunger, sickness, thirst, storms, with waves and breakers literally sweeping over them. Ultimately only eight sailors survived, returning to Nantucket to tell their strange tale.

Personally, I cannot imagine being away from my home on the open sea for several years. I almost get seasick in my bathtub. So the whole second chapter of Jonah makes me a bit nauseated thinking about this runaway prophet thrown overboard into “the very heart of the sea.” Unable to swim, he faces a quick watery death as the currents swirl about his head, and waves and breakers sweep over him. With great compassion, God provides a great fish to swallow Jonah where he spends the next three days. While Jonah suffers for three days, the Essex crew endures three months of distress.

What do you do in a time of distress? How do people survive hardships? What has made you more resilient, better able to endure suffering and trouble? According to Dr. Brene Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection, resilient people engage in the following five factors:

1) They are resourceful and have good problem-solving skills.
2) They are more likely to seek help.
3) They hold the belief that they can do something that will help them to manage their feelings and to cope.
4) They have social support available to them.
5) They are connected with others, such as family or friends.[1]

We discover more of the way of resilience by listening in on Jonah at prayer. The prayer of Jonah is a gift to anyone who faces hardships, a gift which guides us to the great prayer book of the Bible, the Book of Psalms. As I write in Ancient Paths,

Jonah may be considered the patron saint of those who pray in the dark. He cried out to the Lord from the darkness of the belly of the fish. “From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God.” “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry” (Jonah 2:1–2). Jonah’s prayer consisted of an odd assortment of quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures, mostly from the Psalms. In his darkest hour, Jonah prayed the memorized prayers from his childhood, drawn from the prayer book of the Bible—the Psalms. [2]
Jonah’s prayer from inside the great fish includes at least 14 quotations of phrases from the Book of Psalms (including Psalm 3:8, 11:4, 18:5-6, 30:3, 31:22; 42:7, 50:14; 50:23, 69:1–2, 77:11–12, 86:13, 88:6, 116:14 and 120:1). Our verse this week, Jonah 2:3 alone contains quotations from Psalm 18:5, Psalm 42:7 and Psalm 88:6. Learn to pray the Psalms daily and you will most certainly deepen your life with God, and have the lamp of God’s Word to shine upon your heart in times of great darkness or distress.

[1] See The Gifts of Imperfection, by Dr. Brene’ Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W. (Hazelden, MN: 2010), 64. 
[2] Ancient Paths: Discover Christian Formation the Benedictine Way, by David Robinson (Paraclete Press, 2010), page 42. See Ancient Paths, by David Robinson