My eyes hurt as I squint at the receding shoreline until it is a faint line and then nothing, just heaving grey sea around me, cold and inhospitable. My knuckles are white, half from cold, half from gripping so tightly to the edge of this boat that carries me away from the land I know so well.
I let go slowly, uncurling aching fingers from this worn wood and study my palm. I remember studying my grandfather’s hands as a child, playing with the folds of empty skin that didn’t spring back to bone like mine when I pulled it. He’d click his tongue and place his other hand on top of mine, and I’d settle back against his chest, content to be allowed to be here with him for a little while, before the pressing matters of the adult world furrowed his brow and brought him to his feet again.
We lived with our eyes on the horizon in those days. In between milking the herds we children would fight mock battles in the dust, arguing over who got to play David this time, while our parents’ heads were filled with current strategies for war, their eyes with worry for their families, their land.
As a I grew there, my feet learning the paths and ways of this piece of land that our great father Zebulun had claimed, my heart grew big and heavy for this place, this people, the forgotten promises. I squatted on the edge of tribe meetings, unnoticed in the shadows, drawing patterns in the earth as I listened to the words weave and battle above my head.
One day those dust patterns turned into pictures and my eyes became clear and something deep within me rose up bubbling over and over furious and fast higher and higher with a heat that burned my throat as the words erupted out of me with a voice both frightening and familiar and heads jolted up, faces looked my way, eyes filled with fear and anger and confusion and awe.
I was young, my face still unblemished by age, yet my soul felt the weight of a thousand years of seeking and journeying. And I heard the whispers as the words ran out and I stood – suddenly it seemed – in the midst of them, a new person and yet an old one, older than time.
From that day I knew the loneliness of a truth-speaker and yet that raging fire burned within me still and who knew that this was what it would feel like? This filling, this anointing, this choosing. I walked those familiar paths of my land and each time the dust swirled before me into words and visions I spoke them out to the leaders, the farmers, sometimes only to the goats and sheep. Those words that warned of death and yet brought life.
And I loved. Loved the earth, loved the paths, loved the people living in this land of milk and honey. Loved the stories of old, the promises remembered, the hope still spoken in hushed tones of peace, shalom.
Until one day the dust once again swirled before me and I saw a city far off in the north, saw faces take shapes so different to my own, recognised the fall of their clothes and the curve of their buildings. And I saw the city lit up from within with a brilliant white light. But a darkness rose within me thick as bile in my throat.
With a hand I reached forward and scrubbed the image from the dust, a storm of sand under my fingers and then I hit the ground with my hand, fist clenched I pounded that earth until my energy was spent.
But still no. I cannot do it, I cannot go. Not there. And it brings tears pouring down these cheeks as I feel the heat within me fading and I grieve what I am doing even as I rise and turn my back to the north and start walking. But faces rise before me of friends lost, women scarred, houses and fields burned to blackened shells. And I just. cannot. go.
I walked for days, setting my back to the north, my head to the ground and every step was pain and loss and doubt and grief.
Until one day I found myself by the dock, seagulls twisting above the nets of sun-darkened fishers and the sound of the waves against the stone harbour. And a boat with a canvas sail being loaded with corn and honey and wood, the name of a faraway port being called. I lifted my head and looked out over the Great Sea, my heart a heavy stone within me and then I got up and boarded that boat.
The shore is out of sight now, nothing left to see of the land I love so well. The accents of the sailors working behind me are thick and strange. Who are your people? they’d asked as I paid my way aboard, Who are you? I’d ignored the question and climbed aboard.
The wind begins to rise, the sails snap and heave and I hear the foreign curses of the men behind me, hard at work. And exhaustion sweeps over me in a rush. I am tired of running. I am tired of being afraid. I am so tired of not understanding.
A wave breaks against the side of the boat beneath me. I wipe my face with my sleeve, catching salty tears with salty sea water. The wind whistles around me and I almost miss it, wonder if I even heard it.
A prophet. You are my prophet.
But no. There’s no turning back now. I’ve gone too far, thrown away too much. And I am so tired. I look back once more at the horizon we’re sailing away from, see angry unyielding dark clouds gathering and growing. Still far off.
I turn and head below deck to sleep.
Jonah artwork by Jim LePage. He has designed prints for every book of the bible that are fantastic – see all of them here.