“Can these bones live?” God asked the Hebrew prophet Ezekiel. Standing in a valley of dry bones, Ezekiel, once described by Elie Wiesel as “the prophet of imagination,” responded, “God, only you know the answer to that question.” Out of the valley of dry bones, God created life anew.
I always loved Trinity Cathedral’s sunrise Easter Vigil, especially how the prophecy of Ezekiel was presented: for several years, we had a skeleton called “Chubby” narrate the story. For a few years, someone told the story while rattling dice in her hands. Another year, we had sand, lots of sand. And every year, we ended the story with the singing of the spiritual “Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones.”
Dry bones can be enfleshed and resurrected to new life. Last spring, when I retired, I felt like a bag of dried up bones, until I recalled the wisdom of Frederick Buechner who said "vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world's deep need.” God helped me to look at the passion buried deep inside and at the need of world around me, and then imagine beyond the obvious to find a new life, an enlivened spirit, and yes, a new chapter of ministry.
While on last week’s preaching and teaching trip to Washington State and British Columbia, I read Into the Magic Shop: A neurosurgeons quest to discover the mysteries of the brain and the secrets of the heart. In Lancaster, California, a city located in the western Mojave Desert, physician and author James R. Doty describes how, as a young boy, he met a woman who taught him the secret to making a good life out of miserable conditions. Her “tricks” included the basic wisdom and techniques of meditation: relaxing the body, taming the mind, opening the heart, and clarifying intention. Dr. Doty - an esteemed neurosurgeon, medical school professor, philanthropist, entrepreneur, and director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research at Stanford University - credits her “magic” with allowing him to visualize a future beyond obvious expectations, and giving him the courage to take risks and feel secure, regardless of the outcome. I wonder: is this what God taught Ezekiel to do as he stood in the Valley of Dry Bones?
Over the last two years, I’ve encountered a number of wise teachers and healers who have helped me visualize a future beyond obvious expectations. It’s truly amazing how effective and powerful this magic can be.
This past weekend, much of the world witnessed a wedding where a duke, an actress, a gospel choir, a cellist, a prince, a yoga teacher, a queen, a bishop, and a whole host of famous and ordinary folk came together, creating magic beyond obvious expectations, and in doing so, maybe gave this broken and frightened world the courage to take some risks toward a new and better future.
Many of the positive experiences that have happened in my life over the past year came to me through the "magic tricks" of contemplative prayer, self care and an open heart. I believe we can all use more of that kind of magic in our lives. With that in mind, here are some questions I hope you'll contemplate for the week ahead:
What and where are the dry bones in your life?
What new future beyond obvious expectations can you imagine?
What “magic tricks” do you need to practice?
As you ponder these questions, I hope you enjoy some photographs that spoke to me this week.