Happy Birthday to Me!

Hello! I hope y’all are having an awesome Wednesday. I celebrated my birthday, enjoying the out pour of love from friends and family (and food. lots of awesome food). I also wanted to give something back, and so here it is! Another story based on the bible.  Here’s my story of Jonah and the Whale. Warning: it’s angsty.

The Devil of Nineveh

Rating: PG-13 for vague mention of sex

I.

Are they dreams or nightmares? Your voice calls to me from the depths. It demands of me harsh truth, the thickness of ice, and the rage of fire. I cannot, no, no, don’t make me watch. How can I do this? Me, so small, so weak. Surely there are better men. Men that can pour your voice forth. Men carved from the stone. I am merely water. Ask another, any other.

Darkness fills the sky when I wake. The sweat still clings to me, the voice echoes in my head.  Nineveh awaits. The God who brought Pharaoh to his knees, crumbled the walls of mighty Jericho, must speak. Cleansing fire is coming to burn proud Nineveh, pure water to sweep away her pitiful ashes. Only repentance will save her.

Must it be Nineveh? Surely a city, another one would do. Yet you chose me for Nineveh. One that still has a piece of me? All knowing one, you have seen my dreams carry me there each night. All seeing one, you know what binds me to her. The man I left behind there.

Lord on high, how can I stand above them in judgment? How can I, in front of him? Why shall they listen to me? No, no there must be another. One who is grander, larger, a better man.  One clean as the Jordan river. Surely he exists.

No, I can’t go. I won’t go to Nineveh. Your dreams beckon for me to cross the sand but I still control my own two legs. I choose the sea.

II.

The waters rage through the night. High and dark, laced with lightening and frenzy. I hear your murmurs under the wind. Is there no rest from your gaze?  Why do you follow me across the seas? How many must die so you may have me? I am not strong enough for this mission, not worth their lives.

You cursed me with this mission. A prophet anointed is merely a man marked apart. The world senses your hand. Even these sailors, roughened by wind and sea, fear me. I have become the omen of bad luck.  Surely there is a place beyond you? Beyond this destiny?

I can bear it no longer. Toss me over, I beg of them. This is my debt, and I will pay it. I cannot carry their lives on top of mine. Let the waters take me, and I will join the dead. There must be peace for the dead at the ocean floor.

Alas,even death recoils from me. Only the whale, your faithful servant,  will take me. You open her mouth generously wide, and cradle me in her belly.

III.

I never asked for your dreams. I saw the life of prophets. Dreams, once a place full of wonder, become tired and frayed. Other worldly light clings to your vessels. Do you not see how you warp them? Even the strongest glass will break. It is too much you ask of them. It corrodes the soul into lightening or dust. I wish to remain simple clay.

Still, you have always whispered as I slept. Stories from the future would fill my mind, and pure golden light would glow about me in the morning. My mother wasn’t Hannah. She would never offer me to You. No, your light scared her. Every morning her eyes would widen and she would insist I clean my face, removing the slightly unearthly glow.

Prophets aren’t people, merely conduits, “blessed” to be used until you tire of them. Or the people grow weary of their words and send them to the grave. Their lives are words.

Your messengers are righteous and upstanding men and women. Their souls filled with your strength and vision. But Lord, you have looked into my soul: I am not pure.  You know whom I have loved, and lusted after.  I craved what I couldn’t have, shouldn’t have had.  Yet I took him.  And even now, deep in the darkness, I love him.

Still, you ask me to stand and condemn this city? To claim that I, Jonah, am your pure vessel? I can’t. I am broken and flawed. I cannot carry your words. They won’t stand up in the harsh light of Nineveh.

So tell me, why would I go willingly? How do you demand this journey of me?

IV.

Here in the dark I remember. I miss him, my Elah, the man I had who was never mine. His muscular torso and arms would cradle me through the darkness. The way he’d wake me, kissing my mouth, blessing my body (blissfully, blasphemously) with his mouth.

The last night, he woke me with a smile full of mischief. “I wonder if this is what it’s like” he murmured as his hands mapped my body.

“What?” I gasped, full of desire.

“Knowing an angel” His smirk widened as he filled me.

“I am no angel” I groaned, and bit his shoulder.

He moaned, and whispered in my ear, “You glow my love. My lovely beacon, I could find you even in Sheol’s darkness.”

“Then hide me in your darkness, and none will find us.” And for that moment, he did.

He rose with the morning light to fulfill his duties: a life filled with wives and children, duty and prosperity. I could not wish him well. I fled to Nazareth, finding solace in old familiarity. I could not share my love with his wives. I was too weak to stay and love only in the night.

Now you demand my return. How can I face him? How can I judge his life? You all knowing, all seeing Lord on high know my darkest truth: I love what I cannot have.  Love, his love, brought me to my knees. One word from him would bring there again, if he would be mine. Though the moon waxes and wanes, I can’t forget him. Even in the deepest depths, my heart remains his.

With such truth, how could I stand above them? Surely there’s another who could carry your banner. I will break under this truth.  Why do you go to such ends so I may live while you doom Nineveh, my Elah, to perish?

V.

Deep in the living belly, I have no break from darkness. Even my sleep is full of night. The lord of the heavens doesn’t visit me here.

Is this my relief? I begged freedom from you, and here it is, deep in the depths air, dank and salty. Another must carry your message. A blessed curse, this ending, I have no more dreams, no more light. I pray Elah forgets me, survives me, and that the world moves on. Yet why do you keep me alive?

There are no answers here. No relief that I seek in this living jail. Nineveh and Elah consume my mind. So I submit, and so I sing:

Oh Lord here in Sheol

I beg your mercy

Spread your compassion

Over me, this lonely broken

Man, lift me so I may praise

You and give thanks again in

Jerusalem, your golden crown

And I will be your servant forever.

VI.

Nineveh, a city full of life and death. So wide, it takes three days for a healthy man to cross, and all are doomed? Abraham was able to barter for the righteous few. But we know I am no Abraham.

I enter her gates, walk through the outer streets. The merchants crowd the avenues with spices, food and goods. Animals and humans jostle to make their way. The stench of life compacted fills the air.

Another city, like all the others. But it is strange here.

The people talk animatedly, yet avoid their companions eyes.

They dance but shows not joy, only delirium.

A place so full of life, yet more dead than the desert. I don’t understand it. There’s something wrong here.  So wrong I can’t name it, only smell it, putrid and off, lingering in the air. Is it my place to know? I bring no remedy, only a message.

The sun begins to descend. I stop at this open square. Stay, you tell me. So I close my eyes and listen:

“People of Nineveh, the Lord Adonai, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob speaks. The God who brought down Pharaoh’s mighty army, crushed Jericho’s walls into dust warns your city. In 40 days Nineveh shall fall…”

I don’t know the rest. The words were never mine, though heard in my voice. I remember the people’s eyes holding mine. The fear and awe full on their faces. I was no longer Jonah. I was the messenger of Adonai’s destruction.

VII.

For three days I stood there. God shone through me. The people came and went. Laughter turned to whispers and gathered into wailing lamentations. Clothes were tossed aside, sack clothes and ashes filled the streets.

I neither ate nor drank for three days. Just a silent witness to Nineveh’s reflection.  They asked me for the answers I didn’t have, that Adonai refused to answer. I can’t forget their eyes, full of need. They begged me for redemption I couldn’t give. I wished to give them reassurance. They too were in a living jail, in open air. The distance to the heavens still stretches beyond man’s grasp. I don’t have the keys to free them.

By the third day the king came to me, to hear, me, the infamous prophet. He came asking for salvation, to protect his city and crown.  Though in humble attire, his entourage was full of advisors, all eager to listen.  Elah stood amongst them, his eyes burning me, with recognition and shock. The lord spoke on, telling them to change their ways.

They began to leave, but Elah lingered. “Why do you do this Jonah?” He hissed at me. “To spite me? Did you forget? You left me, vanishing in the night. “

“A city of thousands stands before the reckoning.” Adonai said, “Go home and look to your house. For you stand not before man but God.” Though Elah stood beside me, I couldn’t touch him. Though he could hear my voice, I couldn’t speak.  There was so much to tell him, my fear, my need, my love, and my duty. But I stood on, watching these events unfurl around me, and through me.

“Coward” he hissed, and went after his king. And I watched his back, tall and proud, disappear for the last time.

Goodbye Elah. I hope one day you may forgive me.

VIII.

After all of this Nineveh shall stand? In my sleep, heavy after three long days, you tell me their fortune. How I may leave after this declaration. Three days of moaning and wailing and the city is saved? Why did you bring me through such trials if this, your known generosity, would save them?

Elah’s blessed life shall continue. Will he think me just a spurned lover, leaving in disgrace? If so, he will despise me now. I have lost him forever. And my fate? I will be the cursed prophet, the voice of God’s judgment. Even if you spurn me now Adonai, my fate is sealed.  Let me go onwards from this life. I have done my duty.

Surely redemption requires more than their wailing. So I sit waiting for Nineveh’s destruction. Let me fall with them. I can’t carry my past, or theirs anymore. My work is done.  Let the world forget this city, and forget my face.  In death, will I remember Nineveh’s despair? I could never forget Elah’s fury. I wonder if Elah could forget my sorrow.

IX.

The days pass and Nineveh still rises from the valley. Yet this plant, my only companion, is gone. The shelter crumbles under your intense gaze. I am a stubborn mule, kill me, and let me go. Instead your intense gaze falls upon me, your harsh breath whips against my face. Do you find pleasure in this?

Ahh yes, you spare a city for the children. Elah must have some now. Will they have his hazel eyes? I never found another pair as beautiful. My lover’s children will only know me as the prophet. Their father’s momentary headache.

They will see Elah day and night. They will know how he will age, know what he looks like in the light. Yet once, I knew him, memorized his body and laugh. I knew him in the darkness. The way he gasped like a winter wind. His skin’s scent of sandalwood and rosemary. Will our secrets dissolve with our deaths? Or do all secrets live on in you? Do you carry them forever?

How long will you protect the children Adonai? Do they hold guilt at the first stone they throw or the thirtieth? We both know my guilt. Yet you let me remain. Is that forgiveness? Or is this life, carrying your message, my penance? We are marked, Nineveh and I. Yet only you, all seeing one, know what that mark truly means.

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