These are some thoughts on two fellows, disconnected by everything except religious heritage. In the great sweep of biblical history, these two never share time or space, but they come together in my imagination because of their experience of Wind.
I obviously have a thing for Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones (Ezek. 37). A vast and desiccated plain, the dead strewn in dust, their bones white and naked and broken apart without sinews to hold them. A gray sky, a sullen sun, a landscape empty even of scavengers since the flesh of the dead is long gone. Cold. I’m sure it was cold. And I’m fairly sure there were no trees. I can’t see trees in a scenario like that. A battlefield, ruined and bare, the blood long ago soaked into a hardened earth. No victors. Just losers.
That’s how I see it. As completely and utterly bleak as I can imagine. Not the smallest glimpse of life or light or hope. Which is why Ezekiel’s answer to the Lord’s question is so spot on.
“Ezekiel, can these bones live?”
There are a variety of answers to this question.
There’s the scientists’ answer: No, of course not. There is no spark of life anywhere to be revived. There is no matter that can sustain life. The bio of the scene is obviously terminated. Nothing here to see, move along.
There’s the mystics’ answer: Perhaps, in a sense, in another universe, in a spiritual reality, yes, these bones can speak to us of life and kindle a sense of hope in us and therefore yes, they live. Sorta.
There’s the believers’ answer: Yes, indeed, these bones can live because God can do anything he wants to. Huzzah!
There’s the skeptics’ answer: You wish.
Ezekiel—who, we must admit, had some of the weirder experiences described in scripture—had moved past experience, past dreams, and past the despairs of both confidence and doubt. He had come face to face with the vast realities of his own nothingness. You alone know the answer to that question, God.
Then there’s Nicodemus. He and I—we have more in common than I would like to admit. I’m sure he was a nice fellow and all, but he had all the answers he could wish to have…until he didn’t. As a Pharisee and a member of the ruling body of Jews, the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus was at the top of the heap, and so he had to skulk around in the dark, groping, not even really knowing the right question to ask. But there was some missing something, that much he knew. Which is why Nicodemus’ huh? to Jesus’ blunt answer to the question that never got asked is so spot on.
Both men faced darkness, barrenness, emptiness and needed what can only be called “conception,” the breath of new life, the gift of lungs and the air to fill them.
Ezekiel sees the field of dry bones and the impossibilities of life; he obeys God’s command and tells the bones to come together. They do, but that is not enough. They need the Wind to blow, and the Breath to enter, and then, and only then, they are born anew. Nicodemus sees the old man and the impossibility of starting afresh, and yet he too must wait for the Wind, the Breath, to blow, and then, and only then, he can be born again.
You see, we are all meant to be more than the sum of our parts. Ezekiel saw this when the bones came together, and yet: “I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.” Nicodemus felt this when he had it all, and yet: “He came to Jesus by night… How can this be?”
We can add all the ingredients—physical ones, like good heritage, opportunities, education, privilege, talent, courage, wealth; and spiritual ones, like church attendance, Bible studies, Christian friendships, doctrinal correctness—and we can still be spiritually sterile. We cannot create life, despite all good intentions. God must birth us. And yet God, frankly, is like the wind; it blows where it will, and God births where he will. The landscape of the human heart is like Ezekiel’s valley, full of dry bones. Jesus could see this in Nicodemus. Can these bones live?
“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
This is a post about the Holy Spirit. Pray for the Wind.
Photo courtesy Hartwig HKD via Flickr C.C.