The other day during Morning Prayer I found myself reading a passage from Ezekiel, the famous “Valley of Dry Bones” vision:
The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. (Ezekiel 37:1-5)
This is probably one of my favorite passages in the whole Bible.
Coincidentally, I had also read this passage during the Easter Vigil at church this past weekend. That was my first time ever attending an Easter Vigil service; as a child my parents didn’t go to the Vigil because it’s a super long service. As beautiful as the service was, I had to admit Easter didn’t not felt as Easter-y as it should; that is, I wasn’t filled with joy. I had a recent, nasty falling out with some friends, work had me really burnt out, and I was reminded of how lonely I felt in Boston, since I usually spend this holiday with my family back home. I sat with this passage, thinking about Easter and the empty tomb, and silently prayed to God: “Lord, breathe into the places in me that are dry and dead. Fill those places with life.”
I often expect my prayers to be answered in tangible or incredibly dramatic ways (perhaps because I myself am rather dramatic). But in the end, sometimes you get signs in really simple ways.
This past Saturday, I was sitting at home, making my way through Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism by Bishop John Shelby Spong, which has been a good read. On a side note, I caused quite an interesting moment when I instagrammed (that’s a verb now, right?) a photo of this book while I was on retreat – folks were quick to tell me that Spong is a so-called “heretic” because his theology tends to skew heavily towards reinterpreting Christianity in an almost entirely humanistic way. Mind you, I don’t agree with a lot of things Spong said in this book, but I found this text to be an entry point into larger questions I have about God. But I digress.
I had been feeling really shitty all that Saturday, thinking about a mistake I made earlier this week that made me incredibly disappointed in myself, and feeling really cut off from God because of it. Then I came to this passage in Spong’s book where he describes what he thinks Saint Paul’s conversion experience might have been like:
“Jesus is the agent of God reconciling to God that which previously was thought to be irreconcilable. God has taken Jesus into the very selfhood of God. Because this Christ loves me, I can now love myself. That was the way the gospel dawned on Paul. Because Christ accepts me, I can now accept myself…God in Christ has reconciled me to God. Nothing will ever again separate me from this love—not death nor life, not angels or principalities, not present things nor things to come, not powers over which we have no control, not heights, nor depths.” (p. 121)
I immediately broke into tears, and I felt this subtle but discernible presence of someone next to me, even though I was the only one at home at the time, almost like someone putting their hand on my shoulder. When I’ve done something that I regret, it immediately takes me to the worst part of my mind, and I begin to tell myself that I don’t deserve forgiveness and I don’t deserve to be loved.
But God doesn’t work that way.
God’s love is always available, and we are always in relationship with this infinite Presence. Humans put limits on what God can and cannot accept, but if God is to be truly omnipotent and all-powerful, then it follows (to me, at least), that God doesn’t have a small supply of compassion to ration off. The part of my heart that knows that fact has been dry for a long time, and this I feel was God’s way of breathing life into it.
I mused to myself recently that I have been Christian again for about a year now, yet I feel like I still don’t know Jesus as well as I should. A large part of that, I think, is due to the fact that my theological development and spiritual life still has a lot of baggage in the way from my childhood. There’s still a part of me, for example, that feels like I can’t let Jesus into the area of my sexuality, I can’t bring spirituality or contemplation to that part of my life. I still feel like sometimes, if I do something that I know is wrong, God will be furious at me and cast me into hell with no remorse. There remains many dry, dead places in my spiritual life – so I am praying that God will breathe into those places and raise them up.
It feels immensely good to be at this place of potential and renewal – a chance to rediscover Jesus again, in a new light. I’m doing this not just for myself, but also because part of my job is that I am a youth minister/religious educator. In forming my theology, I am also forming the theology of the youth I work with. I want them to question things they hear about God that don’t make sense, just as I am doing. I want them to be free to learn about Jesus at their own pace, and not be pressured to do so. Most importantly though, I want the kids I work with to know God loves them and nothing they do can ever take away this love.
So this is my prayer for right now: may God continue breathing into my dry, dead spots, weaving them back together with flesh and sinew; may my new understandings of God bring life and break me free.