It was a Wednesday. I had just finished making supper when CBC news reported that the bodies of three UN workers had been found in a shallow grave in Congo where they had been documenting crimes against humanity. In a small way, I knew Michael Sharp, one of those UN workers. In 2010 and in 2015 Michael spent a portion of his holidays in Bammental, Germany where our family was living at both of these times. During those weeks, we had the opportunity to share a few meals, tea times and conversation with one another. Michael had dedicated his life to peacebuilding work. Now Michael is gone, killed precisely for the peacebuilding work to which he had dedicated his life. Michael made an impression on me – he was idealistic, funny, generous and kind. He had an incredible capacity for languages. And peacebuilding seemed to come to him as naturally as breathing.
While the death of Michael and his colleagues has deeply saddened me, I know that as far as the Congo goes their deaths are only a few among many. In fact, Michael’s team was abducted as they were driving toward a region rumoured to be full of mass graves, a crime they were seeking to investigate.
Michael had been driving toward a valley of dry bones.
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 (Ezekiel 37:1-2).
How many valleys of dry bones must the world endure?
Congo. Syria. Mexico. Rwanda. Colombia. And if we go back further… Serbia. Croatia. El Salvador. Honduras. And even further back… China. Cambodia. Vietnam. Korea. Nazi Germany. Soviet Union. And closer to home… Canada. After all, there are many ways to create valleys of dry bones. To kill a people literally or to kill that group’s spirit … the conclusion is often the same. And as our recent series regarding Canada’s legacy with First Nations people has made plain, Canada is not innocent in this regard. Of course, we could also add the names of many more countries to the list I have just provided.
And, although the scale may appear to be different, many of us know quite intimately what it is like to have dry bones experiences, our own private or public seasons of suffering, large and small. These experiences may not be genocide, but they are painful nonetheless. And while some of these hard experiences pass quickly, others last longer than what we believe we have the capacity to endure. I am reminded of the words of the Psalmist who cries out: How long O Lord? How long?
He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” (Ezekiel 37: 3)
Imagine you are Ezekiel, standing knee deep among the bones of those who have met their end in a thousand tragic ways. These bones are not just dry. They are very dry. Time has passed and the sighs of the dying fell silent already long ago.
Mortal, can these bones live?
When you were knee deep in suffering, did you believe you would live again? When you look at the long and enduring social conflicts of the world and the valleys upon valleys of dry bones these conflicts have created, do you believe that those dry bones will live again? How do you answer God’s question?
In this regard Ezekiel is no help to us. He ducks the question altogether and says simply, “O Lord God, you know.” Which is as good as saying, “O Lord God, you know that I do not believe that they can live again.”
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 breath to 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” (Ezekiel 37: 4-6).
This is an impossible prophecy, but let us listen to these same words again. This time imagine yourself as the prophet Ezekiel, or perhaps as one who is lying dead among the bones. Let the words wash over you and seep into you…
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 breath to 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.”
How do you experience these words?