In the Belly of the Great Fish

By Rebecca Hall

Well, aren’t we glad that Lent is over! My favorite Facebook meme of the season, “This is the Lentiest Lent I Ever Lented” sums it up nicely.  Whether or not we wanted to deprive ourselves of something precious to us for a few weeks, we did.  We gave up going to work, going to the gym, going to restaurants, going to church, and gathering with family and friends.  We gave up shopping in stores and having easy access to things like bleach, elastic, and toilet paper.  Thank God this Lent is over.  Except we are still living this way, even though Easter was a few days ago.  Doesn’t Covid-19 know that Jesus just rose from the dead and now it’s time for everything to be better than it was before? 

Unfortunately, the real world and the liturgical calendar are not in that kind of sync.  We practice the liturgical year – including Holy Week – not only because we believe that it commemorates events that happened 2000 years ago, but because we believe that it commemorates events that have always happened, are happening now, and will always happen.  Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are true. And, they are a pattern. If we examine our lives closely, we notice the same pattern. Let’s look at a part of the pattern that is often overlooked.  Most people just skip it – Holy Saturday.  Of all the liturgies in the BCP, it is probably the shortest.  It’s definitely the shortest liturgy of Holy Week. And it is the least attended.  But as former St. David’s parishioner Dr. Elizabeth Freese taught many years ago in a Bible study, Holy Saturday as a concept is just as important as Maundy Thursday, Good Friday or even Easter Sunday because without it, Easter would never come.   

Holy Saturday is the time after the crucifixion and before the resurrection.  It’s the time in between.  It’s the liminal space.  What happens in the liminal space?  If we look to the Passion narratives, we don’t find many answers.  But what happens when we, say, break an arm?  What happens between breaking the bone and using the arm again? What happens to a forest after a fire before there is new growth? What happens to us after someone we love dies? What happens after we lose a job? Get a divorce? Move to a different state?  Retire? Have our first baby? (Not all liminal spaces follow bad things!) Something happens in all those liminal spaces of our lives. Sometimes it’s grief, sometimes it’s rest. Sometimes it’s healing. Sometimes it’s adjustment. Sometimes it’s transformation.  

Scripture does, in fact, have a lot to say about the liminal space if we look for it.  For example, in Matthew 12:40, Jesus tells his disciples “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”  Jesus was telling them about the liminal space.  Go get your Bible and read Jonah 2.  We all know the basics of the Jonah story. He was the cranky prophet who didn’t want to do what he was called to do.  In chapter one he even goes so far as to run away from God.  When the sailors determine he is the cause of the storms, they throw him overboard.  And it is in the belly of this great fish that something happens.  It doesn’t happen on the outside– something happens to Jonah on the inside.  His fierce “no!” becomes a resigned “yeah, okay”.  “10 Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.”  

We don’t know exactly what happens in the liminal space – it is whatever needs time and space to happen. The only thing we know is that we don’t like it.  No one likes the liminal space.  Its uncertain.  It’s ambiguous.  It’s dark.  When will the light come?  Will the light ever come?  Will we be here forever?  We don’t like ambiguity, darkness, uncertainty.  It’s our human tendency to try to skip the liminal space, to force our way out.  We don’t know this space very well because we don’t like it.  But let’s remember the pattern: liminal space is preceded by a crucifixion and followed by a resurrection. That’s the pattern, and God is in all of it, not just the resurrection. God is doing something in that liminal space that we can’t see or touch, but that we need and will notice later.  

Even though Easter came and went, we are still in the Holy Saturday of Covid-19.  We are still in the Belly of the Great Fish.  We have yet to be spewed onto dry land. Unless we are heroically called to work in the medical, food supply, or delivery industries, our call right now is to stay home, to wear masks, to flatten the curve.  That’s what loving the most vulnerable people in the world looks like right now. It’s a huge sacrifice in so many ways – emotionally, psychologically, economically.  Those are our crosses.  And if we’re honest, some people’s crosses are much heavier than other people’s crosses.  In time, the prophetic call will be for us to help, in a huge systemic way, those that had to sacrifice the most.  That call is coming.  But, for today, the call is to stay home.  To wait.  To make a mask.  To survive the day trying to juggle homeschooling children while working.  To survive the umpteenth day you’ve spent alone.  To survive the lines at HEB.  To survive the good days and bad days and not climb out of the belly of the great fish too soon.  

We will be spewed onto dry land.  We know this because it’s part of the pattern, and we practice this pattern every year during Holy Week.  We practice the pattern because that way when we have to live it in our lives we are guided and comforted and we know what to do.   And right now, we are called to wait.  

Each week during Covid-19 The Abbey will invite someone to write a post.  The blog will be about whatever is on our mind that week.  You can find all future blog posts in the Resource section at theabbey.us . 

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Elizabeth Moon

    Thank you for this. I’ve been in liminal space (not knowing it was called that) before…broken bones, concussions, broken hopes…but had never connected it to the Jonah story or Holy Saturday. I will be thinking about this for a long time.

  2. Jane Jenkins

    This was a very thoughtful post. I’m reminded of many times in history when people had to wait in lines for food, endure scarcity and desperately try to find hope every day. Never thought of it as a pattern in between crucifixion and resurrection until reading your post. Thank you for the insight, Rebecca.

  3. Robin Latimer

    What a wonderful message. I have been trying to define this time and the efforts in it. Truly, we do not like the luminal spaces. And the Jonah story is interesting because he was called to preach to the Assyrians at Nineveh, a country that would eventually overcome and enslave Israel, so he had a real gripe .. and he sat in the desert after obliging the Lord and the Lord took away the plant shading him.. another liminal space created briefly.. and when Jonah complained, the vLord told him that he did not want Nineveh taken from Himself either and so sent Jonah! The Lord says he had a liminal spacHimself to deal with until Nineveh repented. Fascinating. Thank you, Rebecca! Robin Latimet

    1. Adam Nance

      What a great read! Would love to contribute.

  4. Elizabeth

    Thanks for the Jonah reminder!

  5. Irit

    You, Rebecca, reminded us that both Passover and Easter are symbolic stories of an inner spiritual journey. Stages and stations in a path toward the One. We inch forward, ever closer to God. Thank you.

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