In the Belly of the Whale

Porter’s Weekly Reflection


It’s been five months since I retired (but who’s counting?).  There are many things I don’t miss about being the bishop—I’ve discovered you can have a happy life without meetings. But I do miss peaching. I am sure some of it’s ego. There’s a dark side of me that loves being above people talking as if I am Moses delivering some crucial news from the Holy One. But I also miss the creative movement. I never know what’s going to happen when I finally sit at my computer to write which is the wonder and the agony for all creative endeavors. The Spirit shows up whenever she wants.

Today I am preaching at Virginia Theological Seminary. The text is Jesus telling the people the only sign he will give is “the sign of Jonah.”

As I ruminated over this, what came to me is that the only way we find repentance—which is what the Ninevites do to Jonah’s great disappointment---is by going underwater in the belly of the whale.  I mean wouldn’t it be so convenient if we could just dictate how other people should behave and they would automatically conform to our wishes? Wouldn’t it be swell if we could just text the President and the Congress and tell them how to make our country work for everyone and it would happen?

But we are on this earth for our communal conversion.  If it weren’t for the people of Nineveh how would Jonah find new life?  What else would push him into the deep end where you have to let go of your agenda and hold on to God’s agenda?

I don’t mean to minimize the mess we are in as a country, but I do believe with all my heart that messes are also places for conversion—everyone’s conversion.  Because they make us look at what Anne Lamott calls our “ledger”—the list we have inside of who has wronged us or hurt us.  Getting in the belly of the whale helps us let go—and maybe is the only way some of us can let go—of the list so that we can be free to live the life God calls us to live. Still committed to our principles but not bound by those we perceive as the enemy.

I give thanks for the occasion to have this come into my head and heart and hope it’s helpful for my and the congregation’s healing.