(Don't go looking for Part I of Ezekiel's Bones. I didn't write Part I. I lived it.)
Here - from the King James version of the Holy Scripture - is one of my favorite, most deeply satisfying, and reassuring passages. It's from the thirty-seventh chapter of the book of the Prophet Ezekiel.
And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, thou knowest.
I love this passage. I have always loved this passage. And back in the days of my sojourn with the extreme-right-wing-conservative-Baptist-Bible belt-southern folk of my college years, I experienced this passage in a way never found before or since. See, those folks in the south - they have a social custom of recitations, and recitals, and performance art that is closely linked to their revivalist mentality. So, at the end of every year, we heard contests for music students, and we saw contests for art students, and we sat for the sermons of the "preacher boys" (ministerial students). It was generally pretty lively stuff.
And then, every once in awhile, we'd get a traveling Evangelist coming through. Now, I was raised in the West. The extreme West. We don't do Evangelists. (I've just realized that that could be taken in a couple of ways, and you can feel free to take it in any way that seems fitting to you.) So all of this parade of "Revival Meetings" and "Altar Calls" and men who "had to" sacrifice their lives with their families in order to follow "God's call" to travel around and yell and weep and plead and stomp at people ... it was all novelty to me. I had no context for it. For me, it was like stepping through the pages of a Mark Twain novel and getting trapped in the story. For four long years (because I'm not a quitter!), I stayed in that waking dream, and I saw the panoply of people who called themselves Evangelists.
Some of these guys had their families with them - and they all traveled together in what was, for that day and time, a large motor-home, fully loaded with tracts and booklets, the patient, supportive, helpmeet of a wife with the hair that never moved in the breeze, and an assortment of oddly skinny children. They would pull up to the college, and they'd be the speakers at chapel that week, and we would have the pleasure of their presentation for Sunday morning church and Sunday evening church that weekend. Sometimes, the long-suffering wife would appear in a fantastically wrought skirt suit, with her immovable hair piled up as usual, and she would sing for us. (I had a friend once who wondered why the woman kept singing about a "bomb" in Gilead.)
We didn't see the likes of Mr. Graham among the Evangelists who passed through our college - that man held consort with the Lib'rals! He was not propuhly sepahrated frum the world - so we did not see him. But this poster is a pretty good rendition of the enthusiastic fervor that surrounds the Suth'n Revahvuhl Meeting, with the very "dynamic preaching" - which dynamism increases incrementally each day, if you get a whole week of it, as we did every spring. That was my college's idea of Spring Break.
One year, one of these roving families answering God's call to go forth and preach came with kids who Recited. So, at chapel that week, the kids got onto the stage at the front, and they Recited. Now, did I mention that I grew up in the wild, lawless, live and let live, laid back West Coast? We have a few earnest redneck types out here, but we think they're kind of funny - especially if they talk like southerners. I never thought anyone anywhere took such people seriously - but I found out that down in the Bible Belt, the people really do talk like that! While I was in college, everyday speech patterns often made me want to laugh out loud -- but the day I heard Ezekiel 37 Recited by a skinny kid wearing black suit, white shirt, and skinny black tie, was a day it did not occur to me to laugh. I was riveted. I never saw a kid so intensely earnest (or earnestly rehearsed) doing ... well, doing anything! And this wasn't anything. This was my passage. Those bones of Ezekiel's - I knew those bones.
So I sat and listened to the son of the Evangelist as he declared most mightily the question of God. "Sun of mayun, can these bones leeuv?" That kid was full of the power of something that day. That's for sure. It was beautiful. And a little scary. And wonderful - he Recited the entire chapter! Top to bottom. He was utterly spent at the end. The drama of the story had consumed him as with fire from the mountain top. I'd never seen anything so ... so ... well, so.
And now here we are, a quarter of a century later, and whenever I think of that chapter, I think of that kid. That moment. The breathlessness of it. The drama of it. The consuming fire I could almost see. And until this time in my life - now - here - when I have thought of that chapter, I have thought as far as "Oh Lord God, thou knowest." For me, this vision of Ezekiel's has been a kind of metaphorical language - a mental image to use to get to a place where it was safe and peaceful to just rest in the fact that God knows. God knows. But now something has shifted.
Part II is commencing.
After Ezekiel says, "You know, God," the next thing that happens is the story of Ezekiel's Bones, Part II.
Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD. So I prophesied as I was commanded: and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to his bone.
Do you see it? After the question (any question) is answered with "God only knows," the next thing is the story of what happens to the bones. They came together. Bone to bone, sinew to sinew ... and the prophet could HEAR it! (Man, I love this story.)
And then Ezekiel notices that "there is no breath in them." There they stand. They look like people. He's actually HEARD the building of all these people - they were put together right in front of him, and there they stand. But they do not live. And the God who knows tells the prophet who is listening to do something about it.
Then said he unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great army.
Of course, I know that this is a prophecy about the nation of Israel. I know Ezekiel did not see a vision of a prophecy of my life. But all life is life. And for the first time in my life I see something I did not see before. I hear something my ears could not hear before. I am becoming more and more ready to quickly reply "God knows," and have that be my normal, ordinary, and peaceful response.
But now, now I think that I am ready to say something to the wind.