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"In the Belly of Lent: Jonah and Us"

Links for Learners

by Lynn and Bob Gillen

February 1999

The following Links for Learners resource is offered to those who would like to use St. Anthony Messenger in an educational setting or for further study at home. This resource is prepared with high school students in mind, but can be adapted for other age groups. We will feature one article for further study each month. Back issues, beginning in May 1997, contain this resource. Up until December 1998 it was called a teacher's guide or classroom resource. Teachers with access to computer labs should encourage students to access the article directly online. Students have our permission to print out a copy of the article for classroom use. We encourage you to subscribe to the print edition of St. Anthony Messenger, where you will see all of the graphics, and more articles that you might find useful on a variety of topics. Please let us know how we can improve this service by sending feedback to StAnthony@franciscanmedia.org.

Please see our links disclaimer located at the end of this document.


Links for Learning

1. Finding Curriculum Connections for High School Teachers and Students

This month's Link for Learners will support high school curriculum in Religion; Scripture studies; ancient religions; liturgy and sacrament; Christian life-styles.

2. Finding Links for Discussion Group Leaders and Participants

Look for connections for use in programs such as Scripture from Scratch; parish sacramental preparation programs and CCD classes; Lenten and seasonal discussion groups; RCIA programs.

Understanding Basic Terms in This Month's Article

Look for these key words and terms as you read the article. Definitions or explanations can be researched from the article itself, or from the resource materials cited throughout the Links for Learners.

Hebrew Bible

repentance

Assyrian Empire

monotheism

ultra-nationalism

Thomas Merton

Lenten calendar

Christian Bible

Tarshish

Psalms

Judaism

forgiveness

contemplation

liturgical calendar

prophecy

Nineveh

polytheism

satirist

reluctant prophet

Resurrection

midrash

 

Getting to Know the Story in the Book of Jonah

Read the Book of Jonah before beginning any discussion or research. It's a short four chapters of easy-to-read narrative. Most editions of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) have historical notes both in the beginning of the Bible and usually within each individual book to help you with any passages that may not be immediately clear.

You can access the Book of Jonah (and other books of the Bible) online, using the Revised Standard Version (RSV) and other more recent translations. This will also allow you to reach a number of biblical study Web sites.

From general Bible text notes, which usually include a few maps, you can orient yourself to the geography of the ancient Middle East. Find the Assyrian Empire; the city of Nineveh, northeast of Jerusalem; and the Holy Land. Although you won't find Tarshish, the author says it was probably somewhere in Spain—at the opposite end of the Mediterranean Sea from Nineveh. Looking at a map makes it clear that Jonah was indeed a reluctant prophet. God called him to go east to preach to Nineveh, and Jonah turned west and tried to run as far from Nineveh as he could! Note also that he traveled by sea, the fastest mode of travel in those times.

 

What Made Jonah Run?

The story starts with God speaking to Jonah. God initiates the encounter, giving Jonah a directive: He is to go to a city notorious for immoral behavior, and preach repentance and conversion to God's ways.

Discuss Jonah's initial response to God's message. Can you identify the attitude underlying his action? We see first a reluctant man, a hesitant prophet. Jonah knows the reputation of Nineveh. He has no doubts about what he will find there.

His reluctance quickly turns to flight. He runs, and it takes a lot of effort to run as Jonah did. For him, this sea voyage was like taking a jet plane to the opposite end of the earth. Historically, for the desert dwellers of the Middle East, the sea was an unfamiliar place. Indeed, the sea was considered to be chaos itself. Jonah's turbulent journey, and his three days in the belly of the fish, were a symbol of his own personal chaos, his extreme reluctance—indeed, fear—to follow what God asked of him.

In class or in discussion groups, talk about why Jonah fled. Identify the feelings he must have had, the attitude behind his behavior. What motivates anyone to flee everything he knows?

 

What Makes Us Run?

Perhaps we can find parallels in our own lives. First, has God called us? Do we, like Jonah, have a mission to perform? Discuss where and how God speaks to us today. If you're a group leader, direct the discussion to Baptism and Confirmation as primary sources for God's initial message. In these sacraments, God signs us as his own. What response does he seek from us? What actions or behaviors arise from being anointed to new birth in Baptism and then strengthened in Confirmation?

Let’s talk about the attitudes we exhibit in responding to God's call in these sacraments. Are we, like Jonah, reluctant and hesitant? Are we even aware of our mission? Have we closed our hearts entirely to the message? Are we so preoccupied with less important concerns that we don't see how and where God calls us? There are many ways our flight from God and responsibility can surface, including abuse of alcohol and drugs or other excessive behavior.

Where else do we hear God speaking to us, besides the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation? Talk about where a teen may hear God call. Examples might include:

* A teacher's challenge to growth in classroom work and studies

* A parent's plea to be more a part of the family

* A friend's need for trust and support in time of crisis

* A person in need who could be served through volunteer service

In truth, each of us is a reluctant prophet, hesitant to follow where God calls. And we know it, don't we, when we struggle with our own chaos, our own inner turmoil? We know chaos when we live the darkness of knowing what we need to do and run from it.

 

What Gets Us Through the Chaos?

Re-read Jonah's psalm of thanksgiving in Chapter Two. Note how Jonah, in his moment of darkness, turns back to the Lord, "From the midst of the nether world I cried for help, and you heard my voice." And then, "But you brought my life up from the pit, O Lord, my God." You might find it helpful to write your own psalm of thanksgiving. Try it on your own, and share it with your group, or write a psalm as a group effort. Identify a moment of darkness and difficulty, understand the feelings and attitudes you have in that moment and turn it all over to God in prayer.

Only prayer brought Jonah through the three days and back on the path to God. Do we turn to God when our spirit is broken and we can't see our way out of the darkness? The Awaken to Prayer site includes an extensive list of Web links to prayer-related sites and will help you find a prayer method suitable to your own needs. Scroll down through the lists until you find the link for "Art as a Source of Meditation." Click on it and, from there, find the link entitled "The Church, The Boat of Peter, in the storm." This will take you to a meditation on Turner's "Fishermen at Sea," a painting from 1796. The meditation includes a reference to Jonah and to the sea as chaos.

If you find the quiet of meditation a fruitful way to pray, the centering prayer is explained on the Contemplative Outreach site.

Try, also, information on Thomas Merton, a contemplative monk who has influenced many both before and after his death. His biographical data can be found online. If you have the time to go more in depth, read Merton's own account of his life, The Seven Storey Mountain. In it he recalls his flight from God until he ultimately heard, and answered, God's call. Or try the site for Firewatch, dedicated to Merton and to religious contemplation. Finally, the cover story from the online January 1997 issue of St. Anthony Messenger offers another perspective on Merton’s attitude toward prayer, and the influence of the East–especially Buddhism–on those attitudes.

If you need help in praying, if you can't seem to find the words to pray, cyberspace offers many possibilities. Try the daily "Minute Meditation" on the Web site of St. Anthony Messenger Press. The Dominican Sisters Retreat Ministry will accept your e-mail request for prayers, which in turn will be offered at their monastery in your name. Or, if you prefer, the site allows you to sign up for a daily prayer to be sent to you by e-mail. When you can't find your own words, or when television and computer games intrude on your spirit, you may find it helpful to begin or end your day with an online prayer. And when you know others are in need, you can forward a daily prayer by e-mail to help them pray. So many of us receive (and perhaps send!) frivolous e-mail messages to one another. Why not a word of support by forwarding a prayer?

Finally, we can at times find ourselves feeling that God doesn't answer our prayers. For help with this, you might try accessing "Unanswered Prayers: The Most Common Reasons Why" by Rev. Dale A. Robbins, a minister for the Assembly of God Church.

Our Attitudes Need Constant Attention

Strengthened by prayer, Jonah turned his life around and responded to God's call. He preached repentance to Nineveh, and the citizens and leaders of the city turned back to God. You'd think the story would end successfully there. But, like a good mystery novel, there's yet another twist: Jonah catches another attitude! He now looks for vengeance and retribution to be unleashed against the people of Nineveh; God speaks mercy, but Jonah calls for punishment. Discuss where this attitude comes from. Remember, too, that this story is set several hundred years before the birth of Jesus. What was the prevalent attitude towards sinners?

Our God is a God of mercy. Despite repeated efforts on the part of the early Jews, and efforts we Christians continue to make, God brings mercy, not retribution. Jonah's complaint sounds much like the pleas of the first son in the Gospel parable of the Prodigal Son from the Christian Bible (the New Testament): I did what you asked (he says to his father). My brother (or the people of Nineveh) disobeyed you and flouted your authority. He/they deserve to be punished. Why are you so forgiving?

Sounds familiar, doesn't it? We can almost hear ourselves talking to God: I did my best. I did what you told me to do. I live by your commandments and your directives. Why do all the sinners get forgiven? Why do they get all the breaks while I seemingly am punished for doing right?

Are there situations you have encountered in your own life that brought out feelings of punishment and retribution towards others, rather than of forgiveness? Discuss how each of us may react similarly to Jonah. If we were to live as a sign of God's mercy, what kind of behavior should we have exhibited in those situations? God forgives without limits. Do we?

Background Information on the Book of Jonah

If you're interested in knowing more of the historical context for the Book of Jonah, here are several references to start you on your way. Solid research tools for Bible study are available online along with several Bible dictionaries. Keying in the word "prophet," for example, will give you a thorough definition of the term, along with the root origins of the word. Through this site you'll also find Bible concordances where you can search for other references to prophets in the Bible. This site will also connect you with the Goshen Christian search engine for further research.

 

Further Resources

Try accessing some of these Internet sources for further reference. Be aware, however, that some of these sites may charge for downloading articles contained within the site's archives.

http://www.nytimes.com/ - The New York Times

http://www.latimes.com/ - The Los Angeles Times

http://www.time.com/ - Time magazine

http://www.cnn.com/ - CNN

http://www.msnbc.com/ - MSNBC

http://www.pathfinder.com/ - This site will take you to a number of online publications.

http://wire.ap.org/ - The Associated Press

http://www.chicago.tribune.com/ - The Chicago Tribune

http://www.people.com - People magazine

http://www.washingtonpost.com- The Washington Post

http://www.historychannel.com- The History Channel

http://www.herald.com - The Miami Herald

http://www.closeup.org - The Close Up Foundation

http://abcnews.go.com/ - ABC News

http://www.ChannelOne.com - Channel One's online resource


Links Disclaimer:

The links contained within this resource guide are functional at the time the page is posted. Over time, however, some of the links may become ineffective.

These links are provided solely as a convenience to you and not as an endorsement by St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications of the contents on such third-party Web sites. St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications is not responsible for the content of linked third-party sites and does not make any representations regarding the content or accuracy of materials on such third-party Web sites. If you decide to access linked third-party Web sites, you do so at your own risk.

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