Saturday, August 20, 2016
THE VALLEY OF DRY BONES
This week started out with the joyful celebration of Brother Thomas’ profession of solemn vows, joyful not just for him but for our monastic community (see last week’s post).
During the rest of the week, though, I was reminded of the somber side of life as I attended a wake, helped someone via a phone conversation to deal with her mother’s death earlier that day, and learned about the awful distress of three of our students due to events beyond their control.
Then yesterday, Friday, I reflected on the first reading assigned for the day, Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones (Ez 37:1-14). The vision has to do with God’s restoring the fortunes of Israel, and is addressed to the Jews who were living in exile. The vision begins with the remains of the old Israel, the totally hopeless situation of the captive Jews in a foreign land, a valley of dry bones.
The image seems at first to be about “restoring” and “revivifying” the nation of Israel after its period of captivity. But a careful reading of the story shows (as a footnote in the NAB puts it) that “the new Israel in the vision is radically different: it is an ideal people, shaped by God’s spirit to live the covenant faithfully.”
The spirit that breathes life into those dry bones does not simply bring them back to life, but rather transforms them into something new – the new People of God. A people created by the action of the Spirit of God – that’s us! The Church, the Body of Christ, is the New People of God. This has some interesting consequences, as I soon found out.
As I reflected on the passage, I could see several particular students of mine lying in that valley of death -- teenagers who are carrying burdens that no one should every have to bear. I prayed that the Spirit would reach them and bring them the gift of new life. The promise, I remembered, was not that they would “get back to normal,” but that, because of their share in the redemptive suffering of Christ on the cross, each of them would be transformed into a new creature of the Spirit, someone who is compassionate with others who are suffering, someone who is patient with the shortcomings of his brothers and sisters, someone who can forgive the people who have hurt him, someone who lives in confident hope born of the sure knowledge that he is loved infinitely by God.
As someone who interacts with a couple of these kids every day, I prayed that I might be able to be of some encouragement to them, that I might provide a little part of the “breath of God” that transforms them into New Creatures born from the bones of the Valley of Death. It’s a bit sobering, though, to think that in order to help them, I have to walk down into that dusty, horrible valley myself to stand beside them.