Leonard Michaels on Jonah’s Sleep

“Finding Jonah asleep, the shipmaster thinks it’s shocking and unintelligible, but sleep is simply consistent with Jonah, a man in flight from consciousness and God.
[…]
Now Jonah is thrown down into the chaos of sea and swallowed down by a great fish that has been prepared for this moment by God. Since Jonah would flee God’s voice and go down into the hold and sleep, there is justice in his fate, which he himself requested. If you want to sleep, Jonah, sleep there in the belly of the fish. […] In the belly of the fish, Jonah sings the blues, and his theme is again about going down: “I went down to the bottoms of the mountains.” Ultimately, in his flight from God, Jonah goes down into the deepest solitude, into the primeval wilderness, or what lies within himself. Insofar as he would flee the presence of God, who is other than Jonah, or outside himself, Jonah must descend into himself, what lies within. There is no place else to go. This doesn’t seem a too fanciful idea if we remember that everyone, from little babies to adults, tends to go to sleep when under great stress.”

 

Leonard Michaels – “The Story of Jonah” in The Essays of Leonard Michaels