posted by Lindsey
“The hand of the Lord was upon me and brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. The Lord 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. The Lord asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast multitude.” – Ezekiel 37:1-3, 7-8a, 10b
“Could you imagine living like this?” my friend “Antonio” asked me as we peered into the cramped, rancid, roach-infested 4×7 storage unit that is, for now, his home. The storage unit was filled with Antonio’s prized possessions—his mother’s obituary, pictures of his daughter’s family, boxes of his medical records and keepsakes, his medications, a Bible wrapped in a clear plastic bag, a teddy bear, and a tattered couch that doubled as a bed. The storage unit, like a prison cell, felt utterly suffocating, especially in the heat. Could I imagine living like this?
Some weeks, the sheer amount of suffering and injustice in our city, in our world, feels overwhelming. This week has been one of those weeks—a week where the bad news keeps on coming, where I hear the voices of people from the streets, homeless encampments, psych units, cheap hotels, and prison cells crying out, as the bones in Ezekiel 37 cried to the Lord, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off” (37:11b).
I hear the cries of Antonio. I hear the cries of the family of six living in a bed-bug infested hotel room on Trinity Lane because they can’t get into public housing. I hear the cries of the low-wage worker on Nolensville Pike who feels powerless and trapped, whose boss pays him less than $35 a day for eight hours of manual labor. I hear the cries of my friend who is in prison in Georgia with no friends or family close enough to visit and no address for his parole. I hear the cries of the man in the wheel chair with diabetes and respiratory problems who was just discharged from the hospital to the streets. Yes, our bones are dried up and our hope is gone. We are cut off.
The voices crying out weigh heavily on my heart because they are the voices of our brothers and sisters, of men and women with stories and hopes, of people I have come to know as friends. Too often, it is assumed that they are helpless or in need of being “fixed,” but they have enormous abilities and capabilities. Too often, it is assumed that people in these conditions did something terrible and are at fault for their own suffering, but even if that were the case, no one should have to live like that. God does not desire for people to suffer but to flourish. God does not desire for us to wallow in the valley of dry bones, but to feel the breath of life stretching through our weary limbs, empowering us, and transforming our broken bodies, our broken spirits, and even our broken society.
As I begin my new role as the Director of Street Chaplaincy and Education at Open Table Nashville, I am hopeful despite the deep sorrow I sometimes feel in my bones. My hope for those of us at OTN and in the broader community is that we, like Ezekiel, will have the courage to follow the Spirit of God into the valley of dry bones and have eyes to see and ears to hear the dry bones rattling, coming together with tendons and flesh, filled with the breath of life. I have seen this kind of resurrection happening, in glimpses, in the margins of our city, but I pray that the breath of life will raise a vast multitude of people up from their sorrows, their pain, their complacency, and their despair. And I pray that I—we—will have the courage and humility to bear witness to such resurrection and to believe, as Craig Rennebohm, a street chaplain in Seattle, says, that “the power of healing is greater than disease, the gift of life is greater than the forces of death, and love is ultimate.”