April 2, 2017

    Series: April 2017

    Category: Faith

    Passage: Ezekiel 37:1-14

    Speaker: Rob McClellan

    One of the most beautifully written books I’ve come across in some time is called Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  Kimmerer is a botanist and professor of environmental and forest biology, and her prose belongs in the realm of the poetic.  She is also a member of the Potawatomi nation.  Her writing weaves together modern scientific knowledge with the ancient and modern wisdom of her people. 

    Breading Sweetgrass begins with a native creation story, which bears striking resemblance to our two creation accounts in Genesis. It features a divine form swooping over formless waters, infusing life.  It includes a tree of life and a primeval garden.  The difference, and it’s a stark one for Kimmerer, is that in her story the garden of divine provision is extended seamlessly to all of creation, while ours, in her summary, the garden is the site of the torn relationship between humanity and creator.  One is a story of original connection, and the other of original, or at least early, alienation.  These are the stories of the children of Sky Woman on the one hand and Eve on the other (and we have been acting them out ever since).

    As a child of Eve, I’d like to think her reading of our creation story is an overly negative one, yet one cannot deny the presence of themes she mentions.  Perhaps our garden story illustrates the sense of alienation we experience in this world.  Perhaps it even contains traces of an earlier story of deep connection now almost forgotten.  After all, God goes looking after Eve and her partner after they have decided to hide.

    There is a biblical thread of God knitting people together.  Take, for example, this passage from Ezekiel.  Ezekiel is swept down by the spirit to the chaos that is the valley of dry bones, disconnected and scattered all around, to which God adds sinew and breath of life.  We know something of these valleys of dry disconnected bones.  Some years ago, I was leading a mission trip of high school youth.  On the last night, of what was to be the last trip for many of them, I noticed this strange teenage ritual whereby they were lined up on a bench communicating with each other…via text message.  I only joke about young people because for every one of them I observe distracted or disconnected from immediate surroundings by a phone, I observe two or three adults doing the same.  Of course, this technology has helped connect us in as many ways as it has disconnected it.  Blaming it or deciding who has been worse in distraction is not the point, is itself distraction.  Our energy should go toward gathering the scattered pieces, healing the broken body.

    Somewhere in the DNA of those dry bones there is an ancient memory of being and working together.  The church has made mighty claims about what it has to offer the world over the eons, but perhaps in this day and age, simply displaying civility, staying committed as a body in the midst of the messiness of being together, would be an ample gift.  Not all relationships are worth preserving in their current form, but neither are all differences worth carving up the body over lest we end up like Ezekiel’s dry bones.

    Ezekiel is not content to merely view the plight of his people in a vision.  He takes it inside his own flesh and bones.  As the rest of the book records in graphic detail, it’s a troubling demonstration, but that’s sometimes what prophets do—they show us in dramatic fashion what we have grown immune to seeing.  Think of the hunger strike of great leaders, revealing a state of moral malnourishment or the self-immolation of monks showing us our own destructive and consuming behavior.  This is dangerous territory.  There’s an old tradition that nobody under 30 should read Ezekiel.  Should we excuse some of you?  Ezekiel undertakes at least 12 symbolic actions to embody the plight and actions of his people.  Ezekiel experiences being bound by God, paralyzed, so that he cannot even role over until the days are complete.   He builds a model of the city under siege, and then lies on his side facing it, one time for 40 days and another time 395 days apparently mirroring the number of years of exile, though the numbers don’t add up to those historical events even as recorded by the Bible, which just adds mystery to this prophetic action. 

    Ezekiel is fraught with possibility for misinterpretation and abuse, including rationalizing self-abuse.  If we can make our way through it safely, however, Ezekiel is also filled with life-giving possibility.  That is at the center.  At the heart of the valley of dry bones, God asks Ezekiel the ultimate question of faith, “Can these dry bones live?” (37:3).  God tells Ezekiel to say to the breath, come and restore life.  Isn’t that our question and our work?   Can we recognize the disjointed places in ourselves and rather than further beating them up, can we invite them back into relationship, nursing the wounds tenderly without judging ourselves for incurring them?  Can our relationships with others be salvaged from the heap, not by sacrificing our own integrity or what’s important to us, but in bringing our whole selves to the table?  Can our communities and nations remember that our feet ultimately go this road together, and that arms can be for more than bearing?  Can we as a species step back from our fixation on our separateness and our dominion long enough to remember our place within the greater body?

    In her people’s creation story, Kimmerer’s Sky Woman forms the fertile body for the earth garden.  In our stories, we say that Jesus is the first born of all creation.  That he descended from heaven and gave his body for the entire world.  That in him all things came into being which have come into being.  That in him all things hold together.  Might we faithfully call him Sky Man?  Like Ezekiel, Jesus takes the plight of his people into his body, looking around, breaking the bread and saying, “This is my body, which is broken.”  Jesus is God’s witness to us that neither a valley of broken bones nor a body of them is not the final image.  Remember them, which isn’t merely to hold them as a pretty picture in our minds, it is to put them back together.  Prophecy to the Spirit, join in with her work.  That is our calling.

    Can these bones live?  Ask Jesus on Easter morn.  Amen.