This is the third post of our Valley of Dry Bones series. Do not forget to take a look at Part I and Part II. If you are finding this series valuable, we would love if you would share it with your community!
In some ways, knowing that the world can be a place of wonder makes the valley of dry bones all the more tragic. In other ways, however, having one foot firmly planted in wonder allows us to find meaning – and yes, even wonder – in the most tragic of circumstances. At a visceral level, it even allows us to see the goodness and humanity of those who have caused so much pain and suffering.
Here, I would like to return for a moment to Michael Sharp’s story. Michael easily had one foot planted in wonder. He laughed easily. Despite the trauma he witnessed on a daily basis, he seemed to live life with a lightness of being. But there is more. Because Michael had one foot planted in wonder, he saw the goodness and humanity in every single person he met. He met regularly with revolutionaries who had committed the most unspeakable of crimes. And he loved every one of them. With his wonder-filled sense of presence and his capacity for unconditional love, Michael convinced over 1500 soldiers, one by one, to give up war and to return to civilian life. My hunch is that Michael even loved the people who executed him.
You might argue, that until his death, Michael was walking into other people’s valleys of dry bones rather than his own. Isn’t hanging onto wonder easier when the valley is someone else’s and not our own? Maybe. But maybe not. Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl talks about this very same principle – that the capacity for wonder and meaning is precisely that which kept some people alive in the Nazi death camps.
To be sure, there are times when we enter valleys so deep that our personal capacity for wonder seems to disappear entirely. At these times, we depend more than ever on people like Michael – people who will walk into our valleys with us and who will carry their sense of wonder like a candle into our darkness.
And that is precisely the point. Because the promise of the grand narrative is the same promise as the prophesy. It is the promise that new breath will be breathed into the souls of the slain, of the wounded and of the despairing. Sometimes that new breath comes in the form of a prophet – a witness – who travels into dangerous territory to gather the testimonies of the slain and wounded, even at the cost of his life. Sometimes it comes in the form of a hand that reaches toward us to pull us to the other side. Sometimes it comes in the breath that comes from the four winds – God’s breath – that promises to breathe new life into our dry bones.
And sometimes we are in both positions at the same time – we are both the prophet called to reach our hand toward the one who is suffering – and we are the one to whom a hand is being extended.
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 (Ezekiel 37: 7-10).
When life is particularly painful, even the act of breathing becomes difficult. But the promise made here releases us even from the hard work of breathing on our own. It is God who breathes in us, through us, with us and for us: I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live! (Ezekiel 37:5)
With God’s breath within us, we observe our own resurrection. And when this occurs, it is like a dial is turned and the grand narrative shifts from one stage to the next. We have moved from death to new life, from suffering to consolation.