I was delighted by the two poems in the most recent issue of the Ichthus. What I prized above all was the sense of good humor apparent in both “Zoo”, by Patrick Spence and “Jonah”, by Jeremy Pollacks. There are many great Christian poets who have talked about the fundamental brokenness of the world—Gerard Manley Hopkins in “Spring and Fall” and George Herbert in “The Pilgrimage” come immediately to mind. And it is important to remember that all life will end in death, and all human action is tainted by sin. However, as we thought about the problem of evil and the absence of God in this spring issue of our journal, I found it comforting to read the poems and be reminded that, in the end, we don’t have to take ourselves too seriously, because we’re not the ones in charge.
“Zoo” deals with a strange encounter—the speaker of the poem comes face-to-face with a warthog. As animals go, the warthog is no fairy princess—it is ugly and faintly ridiculous—and yet someone has gone to the trouble of protecting and feeding it. And so, as the speaker reflects bemusedly, “Well, there are stranger Animals / By stranger Loves conserved” (9-10). Such as, perhaps, the speaker himself. However strange—or ugly, or ridiculous—humankind can get, the unimaginable love of God will guard us.
“Jonah” is a whimsical snapshot of Jonah’s failed escape from God. This reluctant prophet resisted when God told him to tell the people of Nineveh that they were sinning, and instead of going to Nineveh took a ship to get as far away as he could. Of course, this sort of thing never works with God. “Jonah” opens as a great storm is rising, and closes with the whale swimming into sight—the whale that will carry Jonah to Nineveh, after all. However, despite the potential terror of Jonah’s story, the poem is not a serious poem; the moon is like a “bitten quiche” (1), and Jonah would rather send the city a “fire truck” than go himself (8). And this seems the proper way to deal with this story: it is a cosmic joke. Jonah’s defection doesn’t matter, in the end. God will make sure that he gets to his destination, even if he has to send a whale to get him there.
So let’s all remember, in the middle of the undeniably hard circumstances of this life, that sin and death don’t have the final word. Let’s remember that our God is a strong god, who really does have things under control. And let’s remember that this means that we don’t have to take ourselves too seriously. Life is a divine comedy, and we are all delightful practical jokes.