Jonk, Nic - VM - José Verheule
Nic Jonk: Jonah and the Whale
A Time of Transformation
by José Verheule
This large bronze sculpture is located near the beach in Bergen aan Zee, The Netherlands. It is intriguing that Jonah is not in the belly of the fish here, but rather on its back. With his arm around its neck, they surf together across the waves. The sculpture talks about the freedom of darting about in the wide expanse of the water instead of being claustrophobically confined in a fish in the depths of the sea.
The sculpture makes wonderfully clear that God is more broad-minded than his prophet Jonah. God had given Jonah the assignment to call the big bad city of Nineveh to order. But he ran away from this task by embarking on a ship sailing in the opposite direction. There God runs him down by means of a mighty storm. When the ship threatens to perish with all hands on board, Jonah confesses his misdeed and pronounces a hard but just verdict on himself. He has not obeyed God’s order and is guilty of death: away with such a prophet!
But God is more generous. He sends a great fish to rescue Jonah, as he does not want his prophet to die but to live for his task. Through the darkness of death the fish carries him to shore to live a transformed life, as full of mercy as the God who saved him.
One wonders whether such lonely confinement in the belly of a fish is not much worse than an instant death. The three days are, however, given to Jonah as a time of repentance and transformation, so that he may come out as a person reborn: with more grace towards himself and others. In the same way God gives forty days to Nineveh to repent and turn their lives around.
‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown,’ Jonah announces (Jonah 3:4). Of course he is aware that the verb and tense he uses can mean two things: ‘being turned around’ through destruction, but also ‘turning oneself around’ by repenting. And that gives his message quite another implication. In these forty days it can go two ways with Nineveh.
The metropolis of Nineveh repents and turns away from its violent mode of life. But Jonah does not seem to get it that this is a much larger turn around than when the city was literally turned around. God, however, does not give up and keeps on trying to transform his mind. The book ends with an open question. God wants Jonah to open his heart just like God himself does. Only in this way can Jonah change from a narrow-minded creature into someone who is carried full of inner freedom by the fish (Ichthus, symbol of Jesus) across the waves of life and death.
In the Jewish liturgy the book of Jonah is read on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), because of the repentance and turn around of Jonah and Nineveh, which changed a certain death into a new life. Yom Kippur is proceeded by forty days of repentance and penance, which is echoed by the forty days of Lent in the Christian calendar.
Nic Jonk: Jonah and the Whale, 1977, bronze, Bergen aan Zee, The Netherlands.
Nic Jonk (1928-1994) made sculptures recognizable by their ‘pettable’ round forms. They can be seen throughout The Netherlands, but also in North-America, Italy, Spain, Greece, Germany and France. He also made paintings, graphic works, ceramics, glass objects and jewelry. Nic Jonk had a predilection for a number of biblical and mythological themes, which he returned to time and again in an attempt to improve their rendition. He revisited the theme of Jonah eight times. His sculptures can be viewed in the museum and sculpture garden he set up in Grootschermer (north of Amsterdam), The Netherlands, see www.beeldentuinnicjonk.nl
José Verheule (Zaandam) is a theologian. She has worked as a minister in the Protestant Church in The Netherlands. She leads services in a retirement home and teaches Dutch to refugees.
ArtWay Visual Meditation February 24, 2013