Jonah and the Whale (Watch)Posted: August 15, 2010
It’s hard not to think about Jonah and the Whale when you’re on a whale watch. Okay, it’s hard for a priest not to think about the story of Jonah. But if you’ve ever been on one perhaps it crossed your mind.
With my extended family in town this week we went on a whale watch that left out of Boston’s Long Wharf and went all the way out to the tip of Cape Cod. Why did the boat take us on this four-hour odyssey to the waters near Provincetown? Because that’s where the whales were. Tons of them. Literally.
Our personal tour guide (there were about 350 people on the boat) was a parishioner of mine named Brad Barton. When he’s not singing in the St. John’s choir, Brad spends three days a week aboard either the Hingham to Boston commuter ferry or the whale watch boat The Aurora. This is Brad’s “retirement job” and he clearly adores every minute of it. A former Navy pilot who tells stories of his years landing on aircraft carriers, Brad worked in the business world for many years before retiring to his beloved life of a deck hand. Even though he technically wasn’t working on our excursion, he just couldn’t help himself toss a couple of lines out when the ship initially came in.
The trip out to Provincetown got a bit rough as we headed into the wind with the boat going up and over swells. According to Brad it was as calm as it gets, which is frightening considering the number of people who started turning green about 30 minutes into the trip. Suddenly white “barf bags” appeared as if from thin air. My mother-in-law yakked, Ben and his 13-day-younger cousin Elsa got ill but managed to keep things down. A number of us in our party of 15 started feeling a bit “off.” Even I started feeling a bit queasy; once again affirming my long-ago decision to join the Army and not the Navy. Then there was Zack who not only didn’t feel the least bit seasick, but also downed a hotdog, Kit Kat Bar, chips, and a soda while jumping around like a pirate.
But it was all worth it once we reached our destination. Well, perhaps not for the few tourists who remained in the fetal position — not the best $40 they had ever spent. Rosalie and all the cousins rallied and we saw some amazing humpback whales diving, kicking, and feeding all around the boat. Truly a spectacular sight.
And, again, I thought of Jonah. The story is perhaps the finest example of Biblical allegory in the Old Testament. And it’s a riot — just try reading it without bursting into laughter. It also never once mentions a whale. Rather it speaks of a “big fish” which we interpret as “whale.” And the whales we saw frolicking on our whale watch could certainly house a small man for a few days. So if you haven’t read the four short chapters of the Book of Jonah recently, I encourage you to do so here. There’s nothing like being reminded of the comic and ultimately futile lengths to which we sometimes go to avoid God. And I promise it won’t even make you seasick.