Right now we are all succumbing to cabin fever. As demanding as it is, why grouse about being together, playing games, reading books, talking to each other and, maybe, taking time to pray together or alone?
It got me to thinking. Even in Biblical times we had the nay-sayers when it came to prophets giving warnings. God would speak to a few chosen individuals to help prevent whatever might be generated by illnesses and plagues and disasters as a result of sinfulness and disregard for each other. Let’s look at two such individuals and let’s be open to the humor our playful God had in mind.
The first is Noah. Here we have a vineyard farmer who is asked to build this huge ship and invite two of every species of animal plus his wife, three sons and their wives to board. They will all live together for forty days. Now that’s a lot of smell, noise and fighting among the humans and the animals. But here is Noah directing his sons to get the animals into the ship – and this is no Princess Cruise liner.
Picture Noah’s son, Shem, gently shoving the cautious giraffes up the plank and Noah on board at the entrance saying, “Watch your heads, guys.” Then come the lions and tigers pulled by ropes in the hands of sons number two and three, Ham and Japheth. The animals going stealthily and compliantly up the plank look menacingly at the other guests as if they will eventually make many fine meals. After all, the lion is a “king.” Then there are the elephants and the rhinoceroses led up by all three of the sons’ unnamed wives with Noah dividing the animals between the starboard and port sides for ballast. Japheth pushes the recalcitrant donkey as Noah yells, “C’mon you stubborn son of a gun; you’ll be happy to be alive later!” The reptiles are in tied burlap sacks with tiny holes for air. They are not at all liking this as evidenced by their unwieldy shaking and the occasional fang penetrating a hole along with hissing like an overworked radiator. Mrs. Noah has to manage the meals while swatting the pigeons and crows that somehow get out of cages and steal her pita bread and barley as she works. You still think you have it tough sheltering in place? Try milking a cow on a rocking boat!
I think Noah settled down when he prayed each night, content to let all God’s creatures join him in the moment. For evening prayer, I’m hearing the catchy Irish tune in the background, “All God’s Creatures Have a Place in the Choir.” And yes, “some sing low, some sing higher,” and there are moos, meows, neighs, bleats, roars, and off key humans. There are super-charged monkeys happily hanging from rafters and throwing nuts down on the heads of the humans. “You are bad boys,” I hear a distraught Noah yell up to them. Woodchucks and squirrels run unabated. There are hissy fits in the stalls among some of the mates who do not want an amorous night. How can we quiet this riot of life and get some peace ourselves, thinks Noah.
Like Noah, we’re all in this together, a hopeful, trusting cork of a boat bouncing on uncertain waters. We’re all experiencing the cranky, the irritable and the overly energetic, the young and the old in one family. I think Noah, tired and afraid, lifted his heart to God completely content to let all God’s creatures join him in the moment. Sheltering in place with the rain pouring and the animals snarling, howling, bleating and the humans arguing, sniffling, and complaining, Noah lifted his eyes to heaven and said, simply, “Help me.” Can we ask for that as well?
And then there is Jonah. Here is the ultimate “sheltering in place” story. Jonah thinks he knows better than God. He is not going to preach to Nineveh as God asks and save those nasty people who are famously unbelievers. “No siree, says Jonah. I’ll get a boat for Tarshish and work there because I’m not sure God is thinking clearly on all this. I know better.” Once on the ship, a powerful storm whips up and the sailors throw Jonah overboard thinking he is cursed and has brought wrath on them. At that moment, a whale swallows him. Jonah glides down the tongue of the whale like a child on a water slide at a local pool. Once inside, Jonah sees a huge pump pulsating rapidly and tons of pipes undulating and gurgling. He sways along with the movement of an angry sea making him dizzy in the gelatinous guts of this submarine beast. But God has miraculously stalled the peristaltic movement of enzyme and fluids in the beast that would turn Jonah into a stick of butter to be thrown out in one of the rear pipes like cannon fodder. God still had a purpose for Jonah.
Talk about “sheltering in place.” Here we have a man of God bouncing from one wall to the other in a whale’s belly in maddening darkness. Jonah finally comes to his senses and hallows out one of the most heartfelt prayers in the Hebrew Scriptures. “Out of my distress, I called to the Lord, and he answered me.”
How do I accept the good efforts of scientists and medical personnel who surely know more than I about the coronavirus? What might cause me to think I know better than they do?
Do I really trust an all-knowing God or do I put my trust in personal power or opinion?
How can I support those in my family and among my friends who desperately need help now?