The Sign of Jonah
This is my paraphrase of today’s reflection by Richard Rohr: The Sign of Jonah
There is a flow to our spiritual journey. There are times of grace when we experience Love of God’s presence with joy. But for the journey to transform us we must, like Jonah, spend time in darkness. Our spiritual lives are journeys of deaths and resurrections as recurring stages of darkness, grace, growth and new life. This is the pattern Jesus promises us and we see it in other traditions as well. Native religions speak of winter and summer; mystical authors speak of darkness and light; Eastern religions speak of yin and yang or the Tao. Christians call it the paschal mystery: all point to the same necessity of descent and ascent. We are transformed through death and rising many times in our life.
Usually, it is a loss that takes us there. Sometimes the loss of a loved one, a relationship, a career setback, or sudden financial insecurity. The American dream of a steady ascent without failure or loss is a delusion spiritually. Mature religion teaches us how to enter with trust the difficult periods of life. Knowing we are not alone and that this is the crucible of transformation opens us to the grace for growth and transformation. These hard passages are good teachers.
Our first reaction is to try to change events so we can avoid changing ourselves. Learning to stay with the pain of life, without answers, even some days without meaning is the hidden path of contemplative prayer. Grace leads us to the state of emptiness, to a momentary sense of meaninglessness in which we ask, “What is it all for?” But this spaciousness within the question allows Love to fill and enliven us.
A quote from another priest, Father Powell : “ PassionDeathResurrection should be all one word” sums it up.
A personal experience may illustrate this. My husband made an ethical decision that caused us to have to start over in business. We lost our original investment in the company he and two others had started and in the following year a recession hit and our new business had almost no clients. I got a job as Associate Director of Religious Education for the Chaplains Division at Fort Campbell that helped us stay afloat, but we gradually had to sell all our investments and even our wedding silver. We had to learn how to heat with a wood burning stove and fireplace. We almost lost our home. Our children got jobs, scholarships based on ability, and did without the extras most of their contemporaries had at college. We even had to put plastic over our roof, since we couldn’t afford to repair leaks. We lived out in the country in the woods, so I hoped no one would notice. But since we were in a direct line to the local airport, I found out our plastic had become a direction sign for airplanes. We all learned new ways of being. Christmases brought out the best in all of us as we tried to make them good for our youngest child who still believed in Santa. Over and over small miracles in moments of crises reminded us that God was still with us. Every New Year’s Eve, we would say hopefully, “Well, next year is going to be better.” The seventh year on New Year’s Eve, we sighed and said, “Well, we’re getting a whole lot stronger!” That year things got better. Some of my best memories are from those seven years. I think they made all of us better people and they definitely increased my faith. I have a collection of stories of life challenges and spiritual transformations. And at eighty-five I expect to have more challenges to depend on grace to grow so I can become the person God created me to be.