"How God Fix Jonah" a book of West African Biblical stories were colledted by missionary Lorenz Graham in Liberia in the 1920s.
Currently out of print, although used copies are available online, the collection was published by Boyds Mills Press, Inc. of Honesdale, PA.

It's all in the retelling

In the West African version of the Biblical story of the birth of Jesus, the story line starts earlier. (The story, “Every Man Heart Lay Down,” is part of a collection by Lorenz Graham, published by Honesdale-based Boyds Mills Press, Inc. The book, gifted to me by Judith Harlan and a story for another time, is a delightful retelling of the stories of the Bible transformed into a new literature when told in the idiom of West Africa.)

Here’s how it goes:

“Long time past. Before you papa live. Before him papa live … Before them big tree live, before them big tree’s papa live – that time God live.”

And he is angry. His heart is hardened. He is “vexed.” He is speaking aloud in his house.

“Nev mind. The people no hear My Word. The people no walk My way. Nev mind. I going break the world and lose the people.”

His small son hears him. “Him small pican hear God’s Word and the pican grieve for people.”

He goes to his Father and pleads to let him go to earth and live among the people. He assures God that the people would “savvy” the way.

God looks down at his young son begging him so tenderly, and God’s heart softens. He agrees to send his boy to the people as a baby.

He calls to the star, the wise men respond, the kings come bearing gifts. They shepherds gather. They find Mary and Joseph and the “small small pican.”

And low and behold, “They look on God’s pican, and every man heart lay down.”

I like this story. 

I like that there is a small boy who has empathy for the world and its people and makes a commitment to be an example and show people a new way.

I like that God is portrayed as a figure who has no patience for what he/she sees in the world and is willing to strike out in frustration and is willing to allow his/her heart to be softened by the innocent commitment of love that is offered.

I can relate to this story because I too believe that people “no hear God’s word, and people no walk God’s way,” even as they say they do.  And I too am frustrated by this hypocrisy, and often feel helpless to affect any significant change.

But in our story, there is a young innocent who thinks that better things are possible. He believes that if he can live among the people with love and commitment, they will indeed “savvy” the way.

And isn’t that the question that each of us faces each day in this troubled world. How do we live our lives among the people with love and commitment in hopes we will all “savvy” the way?

And while we can agree that we live in extremely turbulent times, has this not always been the nature of the world of people? Can we look through history and find this story repeating, time after time? And isn’t it always the same question?

Are we willing or is it possible for us to live as an example of love?

Are we willing or is it possible for us to live as an example of the values and the ethics that we crave in the world?

I am not talking about being righteous. What I am talking about requires small intimate steps that we take in our own hearts—finding compassion and empathy, considering what justice looks like and finding just a touch of patience, setting our own sense of unrest aside, to soften and lay down our own hearts. 

This story tells us that when we live with an open heart, and with a commitment to a different way, we can be agents and bearers of great tidings.

Is this something that you can believe? 

I believe we each have the capacity to lay down our hearts and savvy the way.

This is what we do in community.

This is my wish for our community.

May your holidays be bright and, when totally vexed, may your heart lay down and you find the wisdom to cope!

 

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