“Things to Do in the Belly of the 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.
* * * * *
This poem is fantastic, imaginative, preposterous, silly, whimsical, suppositious, and, most of all — phantasmagorical! A very scary experience is turned into fun. It makes one think of what could occur in this situation. I am afraid I would not be as calm as Dan Albergotti.
If the space inside the whale were dry, I am sure I would cry until I could cry no more. Then I would pray for God’s forgiveness for trying to outwit Him and follow my heart instead of God’s direction (which is what Jonah did in the Biblical account).
I imagine a whale’s stomach has digestive juices in it and other liquids. Wouldn’t the stomach be churning its contents? Wouldn’t I be struggling to not drown? I don’t think it would be a “still night sea,” but a tempestuous storm.
When we attempt to follow our own desires instead of God’s plan for our lives, we find ourselves flailing to stay afloat in the mess we have created for ourselves or that someone else has created for us — such as the story of Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers. That messy experience was not due to anything Joseph had done wrong, but was God’s plan to provide for the coming drought. When surreptitiously reunited with his brothers, Joseph eventually confronted them, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Genesis 50:20 (ESV)
Whether God is punishing or using less than desirable experiences to bring good, if we are trusting God, we have nothing to fear.