Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Doing Ministry While Waiting for the Lord Even When We Don't Want To

As usual the Wednesday Prayer Group starts with a fair amount of sharing about what is going on in our world. And by “world” I generally mean, our personal worlds as senior seminarians about to embark on the next journey beyond required reading, syllabi, projects and the like- the somewhat ominous and exciting “just beyond the horizon” world of the first call. Having been immersed in a process best described as “hurry up and wait” we have agonized, prayed and hoped our collective selves through the end of internships, the faculty approvals and candidacy committee approval processes which have culminated in more paperwork. And more “hurry up and wait” and more agonizing, hoping and praying about where in the country we would be sent by the Spirit within the ELCA. Hoping we were not last to be picked for the dance. Into this swirl, this year we added the fact that statistically not all of us can hope for a call within a year of graduation, that there may need to be a “Plan B” while balancing debt and families and moves. More agonizing and hoping and praying.
And each person’s process is different, so there is a comparison of where each of us may be on the time and space continuum. Some are juggling how to do call interviews and graduate and move on a very short timetable. Some are navigating long distance interviews, or long distance travel to find out if there will be interviews. Some have congregational paperwork to review. Some have a name but no paperwork yet. Some just hope their phone will ring and we all find ourselves challenged by the words “wait for the Lord.”
And oddly the more we know the more impatient we may find ourselves. “It’s been a week since I told them when I can meet, why haven’t I heard?” “It’s been two weeks since I said I was interested, why haven’t I heard?” “It’s been a month since they said they would be in touch, why haven’t I heard?” “If they know they want to see me, what is taking so long? If they know they want a pastor, what is taking so long? If they said they had something in mind, what’s taking so long?” “What does it all mean? Don’t they know I am on a timeline?” “Don’t worry, it will be OK” might be good words for you, but not for me, we might find ourselves thinking.
All of which reminded me how I was on the other end of this process not quite ten years ago. Actually a two pronged process. “What do you mean we have to complete all this paperwork and then it has to be reviewed and then it has to be voted on and then it has to be submitted and approved? What do you mean we need to think about who we really are a congregation, we can’t just get a pastor? What do you mean you don’t have a candidate yet? What do you mean the candidate does not want to meet us again? You mean we have to schedule a special meeting? You mean we have to do this by this date?” We as a congregation council and the call committee had to try to coordinate dates for not only all of us, but the bishop’s office and the candidate and at times it was like herding cats. Everyone wanted the same thing and everyone wanted it in the way that was most convenient for him or her.
We wanted a candidate with experience but also energy who was a good preacher and teacher, but honored what we already did well. Who could be a leader but affirmed us. And who could help us sort it out unless of course we already knew. And pastoral candidates wanted a congregation with vitality but not one with an iron will. With a well oiled structure but one that would be moldable to the creative desires of the pastor. And the perfect vision was whatever was perfect for each of us, individually.
Meanwhile our long time now retired pastor wanted to be able to rejoin three generations of his family worshipping with us which was forestalled by our process. And we all wanted to get it done as soon as possible so things could go back to the way they were.
And I remember him saying he wanted this process to be done as quickly as possible while a bishop was saying “slow down.” And I found myself saying we wanted it all to take only as long as it took for us to be faithful to where God was leading, because if we were not, ours would not be a place he would want to return to. I found myself asking for him to understand God’s timing.
And that was nine years ago this month as I now find myself saying – remember God’s timing and wait for the Lord. Remember we are all people with lives and schedules, who all want to be drawn together in great and wonderful ways. But that those ways take time for people to juggle lives and schedules, time to say what needs to be said in honesty so that we come as close to being candid as we can and to remember God is taking all of us on a journey, not taking us for a ride.
Wait for the Lord.
SO what can we do while we wait to begin our ministry?
1. Avoid call process envy- it’s not a competition. So rejoice with those who rejoice, pray with those who need intercession, and dispense comfort to those who are anxious. Ministry happens here.
2. Pray for the bishop and staff of the synod who is receiving you- for their guidance and discernment and for them to be fed and nourished in their ministry- all of it, not just your part of it. Plug into their websites and e-prayers for ways to begin to walk with them in your heart and mind. Ministry happens here too!
3. Pray for the congregation who is getting or has your name when you know it and are waiting- that they can set aside all that would distract them and prepare for holy conversations. Pray that you can do likewise. Need I say this is ministry?
4. Remember everyone on your journey with you- your friends and family would probably really love to spend time with you. Now is a good time. By now you get the point, right?
5. Take care of yourself- eat healthy, strengthen your body and renew your mind-you will need these things for the journey. Minister to yourself- take care of what God has given you-you!
6. Recall the craziest time on internship or elsewhere when you would have longed for a breather-God will be faithful which means those times will come again- so breathe now. Receive this as a gift.
7. Give thanks- it’s a good time to be intentional about thanking everyone who has pushed, pulled, carried and accompanied you- speak those words, the ones you need to share-ministry happens here!
8. Give your time- there are lots of organizations who need healers and helpers- if this gives you energy and perspective- ministry happens everywhere!
9. Walk with the word- not just for class. Meditate, journal and swim in God’s words for this time. Part of ministry is leading others in disciplines like this-but that means experiencing them for yourself.
10. Celebrate! Even the Israelites needed to look back and see how far they had come before the next part of the journey-remember all those places God has brought you through and all of the people God used to do it. Don’t take all you have already been through for granted! Celebrate that God continues to prosper the work begun in you- a person formed for ministry who is already doing ministry and receiving God’s blessings.
Waiting for the Lord is not easy, but lest we fall victim to being people who really mean “my will be done” may God give each of us the strength to trust God’s timing and providing.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

John 3:17

We already know this Gospel passage well. Most of us may even know part of it by heart. John 3:16. Most of us have probably seen the ever-present John 3:16 sign being held up at sporting events by the guy in rainbow hair. We already know it by heart- Say it with me- “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” It’s part of our scriptural memory. Likewise Nicodemus, a learned man of the law, could probably recite much of the Torah by heart. When we already know the words so well, perhaps we can ask-So what more can be said when we already know?
Yet this week as I re-read and prayed over these words, the world kept intruding. The word of “Water” and the wind and breath of the Spirit that we associate with baptism and new life were words that in the context of the tragedies of Japan have been words speaking death as we find we cannot even fathom the earthquake, the tsunami and now whether one can even breathe the air of radiation. What troubled me as much as the pervasive sadness was the voices of some followers of Christ, who, as they often say in other tragedies, are sure they know that God is speaking in these events- not speaking through the aid workers or our prayers, but God bringing this disaster to speak condemnation. Pointing to signs in our world where we have a steady diet of news and commentary designed to help us make sense of it all. Pronouncing that we can know and then control it all, with a generous side helping of death and hate.
It is into this world that Jesus calls us, just as he called Nicodemus to ponder what it means to be born “from above” or “born anew.” How do water and the Spirit cause us to be born into something different than the clamoring of our world? For one thing it means remembering our new birth is birth into a new community. Our first clue comes from the fact that both Nicodemus and Jesus are speaking in the language of “we”- we know, we speak, and of the plural “you.” Speaking not of an individual “my faith is between me and my God” moment, but being born into a kingdom of God. We see this language in our baptismal liturgy- “We welcome you into the Lord’s family. We receive you as a worker with us in the kingdom of God.” This is what we speak and what we claim we know and believe.
But as it is for Nicodemus, so it is for us- we called to something deeper happening here. Living out our baptism also includes words we say a little less loudly – we participate in Christ’s death in addition to new life. The death of the Son of Man lifted up. And we’re then challenged to take the words we speak and know and put our belief into action- to not be “secret Christians.” To instead step out of the darkness and bear the light of Christ in our community and in our world. Living out the kingdom of God in the example of the cross takes us to the point of death to those things we still cling to. All of those Nicodemus places.
David Rensburger says that “Nicodemus is to be found wherever one whose life is secure must face one whose life is insecure and decide to say ‘ I am one of them.’” We cannot know the meaning of our new lives without grounding it in the reality of Jesus’ story not just for us but for the world. This challenges us in all of the places beyond this sanctuary, in all of the places where we fear what it means to our public persona or position at risk to bear witness to the transformational message of the cross. All the times we would rather hang out on the edge in darkness. Jesus challenges where you and I are willing to go- will we break away from the pack, from our places of security and proclaim that God’s kingdom really transcends ours? There are times when my answer to that question is “I don’t know.”
But as I said this is not one moment or one person, but a larger journey- to know and believe takes our whole lives, and is one where God continues to reveal what our “new birth” really is all about- that though we desire differently, it is entirely beyond our control or manipulation and is entirely in the hands of God.
Which brings me back to where we started and to what can be said to those who claim to know what is done at the hand of God. We can ask- what exactly do the hands of our God look like? Let’s dust off John 3:16 and read it slowly-
For God so LOVED- this what we are asked to believe- God loves.
For God so loved the world- actually, God loves all that God created- all of it.
Loved all that was created so much that God gave the only Son- God gave it all.
So we might believe that this is who God is for us and live.
Because God says so.
Think about how radical that really is and how it challenges our decisions in our lives and in how we see the rest of the kingdom- God’s world. Though none of us will perfect this living, this is why the work of the cross and our baptism are such a proclamation of sheer grace. And we can hear with hope John 3:17-that lesser known next verse- perhaps the one as important to carry on signs at public events-God did not send the Son to condemn the world but in order that it might be saved through Him. God is not in the condemnation business! I hope you will stand in awe with me. God laid it all on the line so that we are able by the love of our God, by the power of the cross and the work of the Spirit to die – to die to sin and all that separates us from God’s kingdom vision, and to live. Christ is how much God loves the whole of creation. I invite you to ponder anew this simple but profound truth. And may the Spirit help you to bear this redeeming sign into all of the places in our world desperate to receive it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

God said what?

Today's passage comes from Habukkuk 2:1-3
I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint.Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.

As I read these words the prayer prompt encouraged lifting up a current need for social justice and for visionaries to guide the way toward healing and change. But what keeps running through my head is Glenn Beck, whose latest screed to is claim that the devastating disaster in Japan is God speaking- not the aid workers, not the prayers so many of us are lifting, but the disaster itself is God speaking- against probably any multitude of perceived sins.

And yet at the same time I am working on a sermon for this Sunday on John 3:1-17 which includes the ubiquitous 3:16 that is at so many major events, plain for all to see. Perhaps so ubiquitous that we are numbed to the words "for God so loved the world that God gave the only Son."

And I wonder how it is that culturally people are drawn the incessant shrill pseudo-prophecy of people like Glenn Beck who lift up an image of a butt-kicking God, rather than the equally pervasive but not assaultive proclamation of God's ultimate show of love, the Son lifted up on the cross for all of humanity.

Not some, not the ones we decide, but all. Because the cosmos, is not just our view of the world, but is all of God's universe. We may not want to believe it, we may not see how it is possible, we may not even like it, but God loves each of us and all of us, because. As Martin Niemoller once put it, "It took me a long time to realize that not only did God not hate my enemies, he didn't even hate his enemies."

So while there are too many issues of social justice to lift up in one mediocre stab at poetry, the one on my mind today is inspired by what it would mean if we listened to what God had to say to all our laments and waited for what God has promised-Christ died and rose for us, so that we may not die but have eternal life, and we are called to proclaim that even when we don't get what happens in our world, we live by the faith of this. And instead of waiting for some other visionary to trumpet this, to each in our own faltering but faithful way- offer that little flicker of light in the darkness that says we will not succumb to hate-mongering.

Lord, help me to keep watch
not for the latest talking head
who cries out woe
and writes a vision of doom
claiming to speak for you.
Help me to remember that your words
are not brought forth in sound bites
but in the times of waiting
and watching.
We cry out don't tarry
yet help us to wait
to keep from deciding
that our words
are just as good if not better
because they are here.
Help us to remember that the true prophets
never ran to and embraced
their role with pride
but trembled to know.
Give us the courage
to stand in the maelstrom of hate
and offer the witness of the cross
of a love we could never give
of a love that changed the universe
that changes who we love
and challenges us to ask
before we curse,
just where did you hear me say THAT?

Monday, March 14, 2011

your word made flesh

Since my last post I have traveled to Philadelphia Seminary and back on a journey to meet with bishops. A couple of weeks ago I learned that in our churchwide regional assignment process for graduating ELCA seminarians, I was assigned to Region 7 of the church. On Saturday my husband and I gathered with over two dozen other seminarians and loved ones, a chance to meet those who had also been called from across the country to the region of our church that spans Eastern Pennsylvania all the way north to Maine. And by across the country I literally mean people who came from all corners of the country, California, the Plains, the Midwest, South and the East. From all walks of life and experience but who will be knit together with all of the others serving the church, but particularly as those who will gather periodically from across Region 7 for education and fellowship. Each of us knew someone else, and then we learned all of the connections we had in common. And then to bond in this weekend in the common experience of interviewing, worshipping, fellowship and waiting to hear the name of a synod that was claiming us.
On Sunday my prayer prompt was from Ecclesiastes and encouraged me to talk about times I have felt the aches and pains of life, but really I would rather think of the seasons of all of our lives. And with all of the other praying going on, well, I skipped the writing of the day.
And after a wonderful day of sacred conversation, and hearing others hopes, dream and fears, and some of the best hymn singing ever, I really could not do that time justice.
At the end of our time together we each heard our name called, and then quickly huddled with the staff of the synod who was calling us, and then before long it was back on the road again, and calling, texting loved ones, friends to share our news. It was then I could see just how many people I needed to tell, and then I could really see between the phone, texting, Facebooking, emailing how many people have been keeping me and mine in prayer.
To share how blessed we felt, the joy of hearing someone tell you there is a place for you and to put real live faces with names and figures.
I know I am assigned to the Northeast Pennsylvania synod and in words I have learned that there is a hope for how I will begin ministry there.

Which is a long lead in to today's prompt of John 1:1-5 and the word made flesh and nothing really profound because I am tired, but it is a good sense of tired:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Your Word
is more than words,
is more than ideas
though it all began with words.

Your life breathed into words,
breathed into existence
our very existence
and everything we know.

Your Word in others
brings words to life in the form of people
who call us from places where we struggle to know you
where we wonder about your purposes
and what is real.

Your Word reminds us that we are a people.
We are your people
Who come to life through others
When you call our name.
When we hear again your promises.
And in humbled awe we light up
and give thanks for the words and the Word you give.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

God in the Stillness

Today's prayer prompt comes from Psalm 46:10- Be still, and know that I am God.

As I prepared to begin my prayer time, my husband called me to the window by our birdfeeder with the incongruous phrase- "Come quick, there is something you want to see, but be still." There was a glimpse of the first goldfinch of the season and for a moment I remembered being in summer Greek three and half years ago and walking the battlefield with Greek flash cards intently practicing when I was disrupted by the most exuberant bird song and looked to see the flutterings of many goldfinches who had found the perfect patch of thistle and were calling out to each other and clearly rejoicing. I stood still, and just soaked in their thanksgiving and remembered that there is more than just the frenetic to-do list. Oh, to be a happy sated finch sitting on a clump of thistle with friends just riding the movement of a breeze!

So today's finch comes as I travel to Philadelphia Seminary later today to meet and interview with Region 7 bishops along with over twenty others, and it will conclude with learning which synod will be home and which bishop will be mine. All of us traveling from across the country, with directions, and itineraries and expectations and paperwork and questions.

I think it is not without purpose that this morning I saw a finch and read "Be still." Just as those August finches caught me off guard and made me recalibrate, today's unexpected finch has done the same, which was an excellent segue into the prayer time directive of "spend 10 minutes in silence...relax...let thoughts come and go...prayers for stillness and grounding."

Be still and know that I am God
Be still, be still, be still
Wait, that seems like my mantra of being still
Is thinly disguised "doing" not "being."

But then, as I slowly inhale and exhale
I hear you, as you place your hands on my shoulders
And comfort me with your words- Be Still
I am God
We who have been raised in a "Protestant work ethic"
Who can not fathom a "being ethic."
We of the "action/reflection" mindset
Who tirelessly explore knowing ourselves
yet are never quite sure
and never quite at peace with it.

You remind me how often all I hear is my own voice.

And it is when you remind me
or even disrupt me into stillness
that I stop hearing my voice
and can be awed by yours-
in the fluttering of the breeze
in the song of the bird
in the touch of a loved one
in the peace of the absence of the cacaphony
of all of the world's doing

Lord, remind me to be sated with every moment you provide
To turn off my busy-ness
and see your hands at work in all that surrounds me.
Only then can I listen for how you want me to live out my being
as your child.

Help me to remember that your greatest desire
is for my heart to beat with yours
for me to listen to see whether we are in sync
and to reflect on this first
Help me in all that I think, say and do
to then reflect not who I am
but who you are-
You are God.
You are.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Don't you know? Haven't you heard?

Isaiah 40
Comfort for God’s People
1 Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the LORD’s hand
double for all her sins.
3 A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the LORD[a];
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.[b]
4 Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

6 A voice says, “Cry out.”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”

“All people are like grass,
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
7 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the LORD blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures forever.”

9 You who bring good news to Zion,
go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,[c]
lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
say to the towns of Judah,
“Here is your God!”
10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power,
and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
or weighed the mountains on the scales
and the hills in a balance?
13 Who can fathom the Spirit[d] of the LORD,
or instruct the LORD as his counselor?
14 Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him,
and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge,
or showed him the path of understanding?

15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires,
nor its animals enough for burnt offerings.
17 Before him all the nations are as nothing;
they are regarded by him as worthless
and less than nothing.

18 With whom, then, will you compare God?
To what image will you liken him?
19 As for an idol, a metalworker casts it,
and a goldsmith overlays it with gold
and fashions silver chains for it.
20 A person too poor to present such an offering
selects wood that will not rot;
they look for a skilled worker
to set up an idol that will not topple.

21 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 “To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.

27 Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Our days are filled with news
snipppets and teasers
of factoids
and breaking stories
that blow across us
and we turn to others-
how quickly we cry out: "Did you know? Did you hear?"

Each story seems to captivate
and yet
our attention soon turns
leaving yesterday's tragedy
swept away like chaff
while we continue on
bragging of power,
yet powerless.

If we stopped to actually list
the whole of the immediate fate of your flock
we could scarely take it in,
and yet how quick we are
to speak for you, Lord
as if we can know your mind
or force your hand,
and when we find we cannot know
and cannot solve

it is then
that we can perhaps
that while we have been
paying homage to our
analyzing and planning
triaging and staging,
you have already been there
as you always are, saying,
"Don't you know?
None will be missing.
Hear me!"

And your voice
in our wilderness
calls us home
to you.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What I Need for this Day

Ephesians 6:10-18
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

What will this day demand?
In a world where conlict and competition blare-
Take a stand
stand your ground
stand up
stand firm

where at times over against those stands and demands you speak-

Take your stand
You will be able to stand your ground
You will be able to stand
Stand firm
Though not for the sake of the world as it is,
but the world that should be

Many people and events and things will tell you that you cannot,
you should not
or that you won’t.
Stand firm then- in those times.

Are there places in my life where I need to take a stand?

Just as likely places where I just need to be able TO stand.
So many processes swirling at once,
like the childhood game
of thrusting your arms out from your sides
and spinning, spinning, spinning
as fast as you can
til you’re dizzy
and you fall
And everything you see is contorted until eventually it stops.
We laugh because we know it is temporary
Not the permanent picture.

We don’t always choose
who starts our spinning.
We don’t always know
how the myriad things that assail us
will again be straight or chased away.
Til then it takes everything just to stand.

Your truth, Lord
is what holds my center of gravity
Your righteousness
dwells in my heart even when I forgot to prepare room
You will guide my feet into places of peace
When I want to take a stand but shouldn’t
When you tell me to walk by faith
and not by what I think I see,
or don’t see.

These are your words
Words for me
Words for all of us

How will I sort out your words
from all of the others?
By remembering to return to you,
You who proclaim that you give the gift
of conversation with you
where all of our questions
and all of requests
are heard by you
Where you remind us to stick around because
there are others too
whose questions and requests
are also worthy and heard by you.
who also long to just stand
How will we see and receive the armor we truly need for this day?

I guess it's a good thing you like to talk.Help me be a good listener.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Praying with my Pen- Can These Dry Bones Live?

I am committing to engaging Rachel Hackenberg's "Writing to God- 40 days of Praying with my Pen" as a part of my Lenten discipline. Today's prompt comes from the words of Ezekiel 37:1-3
"The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”

The questions ask for one to consider where are the "dry bones" in our lives that need to have life and breath of God infused in them (my words as a paraphrase) and then to write to God for encouragement in these areas.

It's been challenging to write this day- I had things in mind that seemed really important, but while I was imagining what I would say, God, you sent me to the hospital to work yesterday where you placed me in the valley with a 13 year old whose path was multiple broken bones, a wrist, a rib, maybe more. He was hit riding his bike to school and his family wondered if the bleeding inside his skull was really bigger than it seemed. Where they let the chopper take him to a pediatric unit elsewhere.

Then you sent me to visit with a elderly woman whose latest fall broke a hip and who wondered whether she could continue to live alone or whether this is one more step into a sadness she wants to avoid. Where just as the brittleness was ending, you called me to another valley, but not before I could offer a glimmer of your healing

But then you sent me to a family whose father/fiance/uncle/brother died of a sudden cardiac arrest. Where his son had tried in vain to revive him, where the cruel snap of the shattering words "there was nothing more we could do" came in a valley where there were no broken bones but plenty of broken hearts and a profound wailing and rending that seemed to have no ceasing.

What felt like "dry bones" were the words I could give- words that if they were platitudes would simply shatter and fall to the floor. Words that had they been spoken would have been as lifeless as any dry bones. As life on this earth was done and loved ones contemplated instead, ashes.

But in the midst of those places you gave me living bones in arms that could hug, fingers that could dial a phone, hands that could hold another's, and could make the sign of the cross to proclaim that in the midst of all our dry bones, you offer life, of the everlasting kind.

You made my ribcage expand to give breath that could pray prayers even when we were numb, that could lift up what was hope- he is talking, your therapy was better today, God is in each person who is holding you and grieving with you. Ways we could acknowledge the irony of water which brings life is also water in tears at a death. And when a despondent woman's guttural proclamation was that the man she loved had saved her from herself, and she could not go on, she was tearfully and wordlessly embraced by those who will over time remind her that God used him and them to proclaim the real saving agent.

How will we go on when all around us all we see are dry bones? Only you know, Lord. But I thank you that you are willing to show what you know in all of the bones in the hands and the feet of those who come, who hold, who bless, who tend and the ribcages that power the breath of others who pray, who sigh, who encourage and support. Help us to open our eyes to how you have already breathed life to sustain us when we are not sure, and then empower us to be the same in other lands of dry bones where others cry out. Help us to hear, and when we can, to share the story of the God who really can make all of those dry bones live.