by Laurie Gudim
We are lying in the aisle of the church in the dark while candlelight flickers in the pews above us. A young woman is reading, from Ezekiel, the Valley of the Dry Bones. After a long and intense Holy Week, we are finally celebrating the Great Easter Vigil. In a moment Ezekiel will prophesy to us, for we are the dry bones.
I think about dry bones, how they have no life – no remote possibility of life. They have been scoured of their flesh, their beating heart and bunching muscle. Once they shook with laughter and tears, arced in the gestures of anger, fear, and exultation, and intuitively, profoundly understood things. Now they are empty, lifeless.
Sinking further into the darkness I find the hard truths that make me weep: the deep misunderstandings between me and those I love, the estrangements with those with whom I cannot communicate, the helplessness against hatred, the illnesses that will only grow stronger, the pain of loss. My fears chase me through the corridors of my imagination. Hopelessness wrings the last drop of moisture out of me.
“Can these bones live?” asks God. Ezekiel says, “you know, O Lord God.”
So Ezekiel prophesies and all us dry bones move a little, then fall back. In this version of the story, Ezekiel thinks the prophesy didn’t work. She complains to God that God has not followed through on God’s promise. Ezekiel is now a laughing stock among her peers – as usual. Being a prophet sucks.
God tells her to prophesy again. Rattles sound in the darkness and this time something happens. As Ezekiel describes it, we imagine bone coming to bone and sinews and muscle and skin enveloping them. Now we are bodies, but still not alive.
We are bodies stretched out on the floor. Something more is needed. What is the necessary partnership the human soul must find in order to come from hopelessness into promise, from despair into possibility, from death into life? It is the Breath, of course. It is Spirit.
So Ezekiel, at God’s command, prophesies to the Breath. “Come from the four winds,” she bids it, “and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I have had my eyes closed for awhile, but I open them now. When I had last heard from her, mere hours before the service, our youth minister had still been uncertain as to who would play the part of the Breath. Would she take the role herself?
But when I crack my eyes open, there, standing over me, is a very tiny, shy person with a purple scarf. She looks at me with grave uncertainty for the longest moment, as if doubting that there is really any hope for me at all. Then, finally, she tentatively flips her scarf a little, and I understand that it is time to breathe, to stand up and take my place with the multitude.
This image of the Breath of God, the little face, brows winging above her nose, head tilted just a little, peering down at my supine form and flicking her scarf, is paired for me now indelibly with the later images of turning on lights and ringing bells. Christ is risen. He has broken his prison. The Lord is risen indeed.
Can these bones live? I know (in my bones) that the answer will always be, “yes.” Called back from the very depths of lifelessness by the smallest and most uncertain of inspirations, I’ll take the next Spirit-filled breath. Hope and creativity will come to life again within my heart. For Christ is risen. Now and forever, the Lord is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.
Laurie Gudim works is a religious iconographer and writer in Fort Collins, Colorado. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.She has recently published her novel, Loving the Six-Toed Jesus, available from Amazon.
Image: public domain from Pixabay