Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
Take a breath. A deep one. Let it fill your lungs and move to different parts of your body. Feel how it cleanses and refreshes. Feel how it is truly necessary for your body and your mind and even your spirit. Go ahead. I will wait until you have been breathing a bit….
Still breathing….Ok, today this is an essential task to see what the prophet Ezekiel sees with God. When the writer of Ezekiel uses the words for breath he uses the Hebrew word, “ruach.” This is important because this word holds so much more than just air in lungs. This word, ruach, translates to breath, wind and spirit. God shows Ezekiel that we actually need spirit to live, not just flesh and bone.
Coming from Ezekiel’s perspective this holds so much hope! This image rich vision of Ezekiel’s comes to us from 597 BCE. This period of history is right in the middle of the Babylonian exile. Judean leaders and the king are forced out of Jerusalem to Babylon. This time of history is bloody and gory. Ezekiel is a former priest of Jerusalem who has also been exiled to Babylon. Their future looks bleak and is full of war in the present. Babylon is utterly destroying Ezekiel’s home. Ezekiel brings us oracles that show God’s presence before and after this destruction. At this point in the book, Ezekiel is tired and God shows him a vision of a typical battlefield. Bones strewn about, bodies left out to be picked over by thieves and birds.
And out of this view of destruction, Ezekiel sets the stage for a vision of new life but it can only happen with God’s breath, ruach. It is repeated time and time again by God. With God’s spirit anything is possible. The prophetic word starts to reassemble from war scene to new life but it takes God’s spirit to completely recreate. Anything is possible with this new spirit in our lifeless bodies at times. For me, this is one of the most powerful images in the bible because of the power of God’s spirit in flesh and blood.
Advent can be a time of darkness and feelings of exhausting. We can relate to Ezekiel’s lament with the bones. Like Ezekiel we may look upon the world and when asked about new life we may reply like Ezekiel, with all the breath we have left say, “Only you know God.” But in the midst of that dry land and destruction, Advent also gives us great hope in what God’s spirit might be able to do in us. Advent sets the stage for waiting…waiting for that breath to take hold, to fill our lungs, and transform us into new beings. We are given promises of light and newness in the form of a new kind of living into this spirit filled life.
Quotes of the Week
“Remember to breathe. It is after all, the secret of life.” ― Gregory Maguire
“Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.” ― Thích Nhất Hạnh
“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” ― Shel Silverstein
Ezekiel 37:1-14 (NRSV) 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 breathto enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”
So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath:Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.
Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act, says the Lord.”
Questions for the Week
What gives you life? What helps you breathe easier?
When have you and God worked really well together?
What images of hope and peace revive you?