Sunday, August 24, 2014

"Jonah and the whale"

The book of Jonah is famous for the fish miracle. Some scholars deride it while others defend it. 

Commentators on Jonah aren't ordinarily commercial fishermen or whalers. Same thing with most modern readers. In that regard, it's useful to see the reaction to a sermon on "Jonah and the whale" by a congregation that understands the perils, firsthand. This is account of an Eskimo church service. The parishioners belong to a fishing village on the North Slope of Alaska. The mortal dangers, as well as the theme of divine deliverance, has special resonance for them:

The church was empty when I entered–it was rather fine, walled with the pale oak mass-produced panelling…On the wall above the altar glimmered a scene from the Gospels.  
The service was beginning. Choir men and women took their places, and a serious Iñupiat preacher entered, short in stature, round of face, wearing a white surplice and stole. During the service he sometimes spoke in Iñupiat, sometimes in English. During the hymns I noticed Seth Lowe, a grizzled whaling captain, sitting behind me. I could hear him sing a hearty bass, and many women were singing alto, so I sang tenor, and we harmonized quite well. "Stand up, stand up for Jesus/ Ye soldiers of the cross" was one hymn. The theme running through the service was battle, death, human weakness, the desire for suicide, and God's triumph. The reading was from Jonah and the whale. Tears did not seem very far from any of us. E. Turner, The Hands Feel It (Northern Illinois University Press 1996), 22-23. 

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