From the Prophet Ezekiel (written after Israel had been forced into exile from the Promised Land, it is written because they had rejected God)
1-2 God grabbed me. God’s Spirit took me up and set me down in the middle of an open plain strewn with bones. He led me around and among them—a lot of bones! There were bones all over the plain—dry bones, bleached by the sun.
Have you ever had a dream where you snapped your fingers and things changed immediately? It’s a classic movie dream sequence, where you snap out of your daydream back to reality. It’s jarring to be catapulted back to reality, especially if your dream was particularly warm and fuzzy.
In a way, that’s how I feel about this faith deconstruction. I mean, it wasn’t so much as a snap as a slow descent from my perfect cloud-world of simple faith into the valley of bones and reality. Maybe I didn’t realize it because, when I started this faith deconstruction, my little lamb-shaped faith needed food and water and attention. Maybe I could have stayed in cloud-world a little longer, many people do, but I’m too restless, I ask too many questions. It got to feel like I was being held hostage by my own faith. “Oh no, I can’t ask that question because if I ask that question, then there will be another and another and another. I can’t take that slippery slope.” Maybe I was just tired of being held hostage by fear. Fearing God, fearing what would happen if I doubted God, fearing what others would think if I expressed doubt about God; that’s no way to live.
“What if I take that slippery slope?”
And so I did- me and my lamb of faith.
Leaving everything you ever knew and held dear is terrifying. I totally get why lots of people avoid it. Anger, doubt, cynicism are not feelings that are typically associated with faith. This feels like new, unexplored territory. Who else is doing this? Regardless of my loneliness, I kept putting one foot in front of the other, leaning into doubt instead of returning to the clouds, dragging my faith behind me. Maybe I knew my faith was sick so that’s why I worked desperately to convince myself, and others, that it wasn’t. “More perfume! Maybe a haircut! Oh, it’s just sleeping, haha! Wake up, silly!” Step, drag; step, drag. Lower and lower, until one day, God must have snapped Her fingers and I realized that my faith was a pile of dry bones covered in tattered rotting sheepskin.
I am isolated and alone in a field of dry bones that stretch as far as my eye can see. This is as far as I have ever strayed from the religious home of my youth. It is terrifying.
My only comfort is that I know God is still with me. This is not the God of the temple or the synagogue, the God surrounded by gold, fine fabrics, and food offerings. This is the God of the wilderness, raw and untamed.
3 He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Master God, only you know that.”
4 He said to me, “Prophesy over these bones: ‘Dry bones, listen to the Message of God!’”
5-6 God, the Master, told the dry bones, “Watch this: I’m bringing the breath of life to you and you’ll come to life. I’ll attach sinews to you, put meat on your bones, cover you with skin, and breathe life into you. You’ll come alive and you’ll realize that I am God!”
Now that I have a chance to start almost completely over, what do I want to include? What is faith? What is religion? What does it really mean to love God and love your neighbor? Where do justice and systems fit into faith?
If I’m being honest, my final undoing was understanding that racism is real and learning about the power dynamics in the adoption triad. Just like I talked about here, I felt like I had new wine, new realizations, a new understanding of the world around me. New wine, old wineskins. How do I contain all of this new information? What does it mean for my understanding of God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the Church? I went through a period where I didn’t want to hear one word about my ‘personal relationship with Jesus Christ’. I only wanted to know how and what God was doing about systems of oppression, how God was caring for communities being crushed under these systems’ relentless churning.
For a long time, I didn’t want to hear much from God. How dare God allow this much death and destruction. Look at these bones!
God let me wail and wallow, speaking softly to me, even when I wasn’t listening. “Look what I’m doing. There’s still hope. There’s still life.” Often, God’s presence surprises me. After all, I have found God in places I never looked before- Jewish texts, liberation theology, Gay Pride Parades, friends that have unexpectedly also been on this journey, womanist memoirs.
Maybe there is still hope. Can life still be found?
7-8 I prophesied just as I’d been commanded. As I prophesied, there was a sound and, oh, rustling! The bones moved and came together, bone to bone. I kept watching. Sinews formed, then muscles on the bones, then skin stretched over them. But they had no breath in them.
9 He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath. Prophesy, son of man. Tell the breath, ‘God, the Master, says, Come from the four winds. Come, breath. Breathe on these slain bodies. Breathe life!’”
10 So I prophesied, just as he commanded me. The breath entered them and they came alive! They stood up on their feet, a huge army.
A friend recently called me a name at a Chic-fil-A lunch catch up. He called me ‘a mighty woman’. He was crying, I was crying. It was a hot mess Chic-fil-A lunch. If I wasn’t sobbing, I would have offered a group apology to those trying to enjoy their Chic-n-strips without crying people at the table next to them.
‘A mighty woman’
Those words unexpectedly breathed some life into this valley of bones.
Isn’t it funny how God created us to need each other?
I think the logic of the faith of my youth would have taught me that reviving my bones was on me. “Stop sinning! Stop saying the word ‘shit’! Just have faith and stop doubting! You are making God angry at you! Stop making people uncomfortable! Stop being so mad all the time!”
I’m at a point now where I hear the rustling. However faint, bones around me are trembling and knocking together. None of that is my doing. It has been other people- speaking into me, sharing their journeys, forgiving me, welcoming me, listening to me, cherishing my lived experiences, having hard conversations.
Other people, also beloved by God, are resuscitating my faith.
This valley of bones is coming to life. It won’t be quick. It probably won’t be easy, but I hear the rustling.
11 Then God said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Listen to what they’re saying: ‘Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone, there’s nothing left of us.’
12-14 “Therefore, prophesy. Tell them, ‘God, the Master, says: I’ll dig up your graves and bring you out alive—O my people! Then I’ll take you straight to the land of Israel. When I dig up graves and bring you out as my people, you’ll realize that I am God. I’ll breathe my life into you and you’ll live. Then I’ll lead you straight back to your land and you’ll realize that I am God. I’ve said it and I’ll do it. God’s Decree.’”
This is what God does. God makes old things new. I read something recently that said Americans want to go from point A to point C without having to travel though the painful point B. We don’t want to be buried. Being buried SUCKS. It’s scary and dirty and people abandon you and you feel alone. You don’t know how long you have to be there. You have no control over when the fun stops.
We don’t learn how to survive a valley of bones in Sunday school, because we often end up denying that those valleys even exist in the first place- which leads those of us who find ourselves in valleys of bones feeling completely alone.
This is why I write. It has been other people being honest about their doubts, their failures, their deconstructions, their valleys of bones that has kept me alive.
God’s consistent message has been that She will make things new.
The bones are moving.
“I’ve said it and I’ll do it.