This is the first time that I have looked out on the horizon of the calendar year and not seen a couple of goals to travel toward. There are no sparkly adventures or deadlines, no moves nor significant transitions. I’m really not comfortable with what seems to me like standing still. I crave change. I want the fresh start, the blank slate, the do-over. I want to cut and run, but instead this will be a year in the belly of the whale.
I do not subscribe to any particular religion. If pushed I would align myself with Buddhism but that’s a stretch. I’m one of those spiritual mutts who can find the message in the stories of diverse traditions, although it is hard for me to understand a vengeful God. Jonah and the whale starts out with wrath but resolves with a downright happy ending for the bible.
Jonah spent three days in the belly of the whale, a forced time-out for disobeying God’s request to tell the people of Nineveh to repent. He just didn’t want to do it – he even purposely boarded a ship going in the opposite direction. God creates a fierce tempest that puts the ship at peril. Jonah realizes he is the cause of God’s anger and asks to be thrown to the sea to save the others. The sailors, being kind in nature, first try to row Jonah to shore but when it becomes too treacherous they ultimately dump him overboard.
Now it looks like the end for Jonah, but God gives him one more chance and sends a whale to swallow him up where he stays for three days. During this time he prays, meditates and finds his sense of purpose. He is spit back to safety and takes the path that he avoided and saves the people of Nineveh with his warning.
I’m no Jonah but I feel like I’m in the belly of the whale for similar reasons. I have a gnawing sense that there is something I’m supposed to do. I likely even know my path, but push the calling away. It’s too much trouble, too much disruption, too risky.
Jonah’s time in the whale was intense and a crucible for his spiritual transformation. What I like about Dan Albergotti poem, Things to do in the Belly of the Whale, is how he makes this time sound playful and less fetid and scary. I’m compiling my list of things to do while I’m residing in the whale. I want to find the fun in this time of introspection and planning – to brood less and evolve more. I want to “Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of (my) heart. Be thankful that (I am) here, swallowed with all hope, where (I) can rest and wait.”
Things to Do in the Belly of a Whale by Dan Albergotti
Measure the walls. Count the ribs. Notch the long days.
Look up for blue sky through the spout. Make small fires
with the broken hulls of fishing boats. Practice smoke signals.
Call old friends, and listen for echoes of distant voices.
Organize your calendar. Dream of the beach. Look each way
for the dim glow of light. Work on your reports. Review
each of your life’s ten million choices. Endure moments
of self-loathing. Find the evidence of those before you.
Destroy it. Try to be very quiet, and listen for the sound
of gears and moving water. Listen for the sound of your heart.
Be thankful that you are here, swallowed with all hope,
where you can rest and wait. Be nostalgic. Think of all
the things you did and could have done. Remember
treading water in the center of the still night sea, your toes
pointing again and again down, down into the black depths.
“Things to Do in the Belly of the Whale” by Dan Albergotti from The Boatloads.© BOA Editions, Ltd., 2008.
I took the photo in the atrium of the Children’s Museum in Fort Worth.