From the Belly of the Fish

Written by Elizabeth Snader, Campus Minister at the University of Mary Washington

Trees with light coming through. A Voice in the Wilderness

Jonah 2:1-10

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said:

“In my distress I called to the Lord,

    and he answered me.

From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help,

    and you listened to my cry.

You hurled me into the depths,

    into the very heart of the seas,

    and the currents swirled about me;

all your waves and breakers

    swept over me.

I said, ‘I have been banished

    from your sight;

yet I will look again

    toward your holy temple.’

The engulfing waters threatened me,[b]

    the deep surrounded me;

    seaweed was wrapped around my head.6 To the roots of the mountains I sank down;

    the earth beneath barred me in forever.

But you, Lord my God,

    brought my life up from the pit.

 “When my life was ebbing away,

    I remembered you, Lord,

and my prayer rose to you,

    to your holy temple.

“Those who cling to worthless idols

    turn away from God’s love for them.

But I, with shouts of grateful praise,

    will sacrifice to you.

What I have vowed I will make good.

    I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”

And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.


This passage is the prayer that Jonah cried out to God while in the belly of the fish. For this moment let’s agree that the literal understanding of what actually happened to Jonah and whether or not he was actually in the belly of a fish doesn’t matter as much as what Jonah prays and how he cries out to God in this dark moment, arguably brought on by his own actions. Jonah is expressing true emotion and vulnerability with God after rejecting God’s call to go to Nineveh. Jonah is left in a dark state, maybe both literally and figuratively. Have you ever felt like your own actions have left you in a state of feeling distant from God? I know I have been there and it can be hard to process through or know how to approach God.

I view this prayer as not only Jonah crying out to God, but I imagine Jonah saying this prayer as a way to remind himself of who God is. Jonah says, “I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple” and “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you and your holy temple.” I am currently doing Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Mary Washington Hospital (serving as a chaplain for the hospital and reflecting on what I experience together with others) and I can remember my Supervisor telling us during orientation that we will see a lot of hard things during CPE, but it helps to remind yourself of your truth in the moment as a way of coping. I view Jonah as trying to find words to reassure himself in this dark time of not knowing what was going to happen. And, wow, were those powerful words that Jonah uttered in the darkness of the circumstances he finds himself. I wonder if we too have moments where we feel like we are in darkness when we have uttered our true feelings to God. We may feel as if God cannot or will not hear us, but Jonah reminds us that even when you run away from God, God is still there and able to hear you and be with you.

During this season of Lent we are reflecting on Jesus’ life and ultimately the road that leads him to death. That is dark, and can be hard truly to sit and ponder. Thankfully we know the end of the story, but true growth happens when we sit and address our feelings of darkness and remind ourselves of the truth. I wonder what it may look like for you to craft a prayer modeled after Jonah’s prayer. Starting with the things that you feel have left distance between you and God and then in the same sentence reminding yourself of the good, steadfast ways that God is in your life. I pray this Lenten season is one where you take time to pause and reflect.




A Voice in the Wilderness: Lent 2024

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