About nine years ago, I attended a three day training provided by Presbyterian Disaster assistance, to be trained in disaster response. Many of us remember Hurricane Irene followed a year later by Super Storm Sandy. Many of our communities and churches were damaged and or impacted by these storms. Disasters come in many shapes and sizes. We often think of them as natural disasters, such as hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and forest fires. Throughout the training, it was emphasized, the best way to deal with a natural disaster is to be prepared. Make sure you have what you need prior to the disaster hitting and make sure you have your own family plan. Another thing that was emphasized is that there are various stages to disasters – the first is preparedness, the second is impact, and the third is immediate response and the next is long term recovery. As I looked over some other resources, mitigation is also listed, which is the attempt to reduce the severity or seriousness of the disaster.
What is connecting with me is that we are, obviously, in the midst of a disaster, but this is, for most of us, a different. It is different because this disaster is not like a hurricane that has a short period of time for impact. When we prepare for a hurricane, we know we need to hunker down for a day or two, but once the storm passes, we can go outside and assess the damage and begin recover. Our natural inclination is to move into recovery. The goodness in human nature, in human hearts, in our souls, calls us to respond, to help, to get life back to normal.
So what happens when we are in a long term disaster? What I am seeing is the phases of disaster or blurring. In the midst of the impact, we are also trying to mitigate what could be an even worse disaster. People are needing to prepare, and stay prepared, and replenish those resources as they are consumed. And as people are getting better, there is a recovery phase still mixed in with the midst of chaos. The thing that we cannot do, that we must wait on, is trying to return life back to normal.
So, what does that mean for us? From a resource provided by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance – “Disaster disrupts people’s spiritual lives significantly.” Our Lenten series as been on Spiritual Disciplines and we have been discussing what it means to be spiritual but not religious. Spirituality connects us to life. Spirituality is about community, it is about having a mission, it involves our well-being and joy. All of this is being impacted right now.
In a normal form of disaster, it is important for people to gather together in community and share their stories. This has been so hard as a people of faith, that we cannot gather together in the physical presence of each other. But we can still gather. At this time, more than ever, we need to use technology to stay connected. Call each other. There is an overwhelming sense of fear and that can impact our sense of mission and purpose, it can impact our well-being and joy. The anxiety of this current disaster is impacting people’s ability to sleep. All of this disrupts who we are as a spiritual being. So, in the midst of this disaster, we must stay attuned to our spiritual well being.
Which brings us to the passage today in Ezekiel. The people in the day and age of Ezekiel have been through a horrendous disaster. The Babylonians have come in and ravaged their land, they have taken people into exile and to add insult to injury they have destroyed the city of Jerusalem including the Temple of God. As exiles being forced to live in a foreign land, the Israelites underwent a deep spiritual loss. Disasters disrupts people’s spiritual lives significantly. They have lost their land, they have lost their holy place of worship, they have lost their culture, they are cut off from everything including their God. There is a deep sense of Hopelessness for the Hebrew people in exile.
This passage in Ezekiel is descriptive, you should be able to visualize the sense of despair. One commentator compared it to the scene of the Elephant Graveyard in the Lion King, while another used an image of a battle field during war. Ezekiel is having this vision, a vision of a valley filled with bones, a vision of death. A vision of death with the voice of God asking- Can these bones live? For you see, with God, death never has the last word; hopelessness, despair, should never have the last word. And it is with words that God tells Ezekiel to speak, to prophecy to these bones, tell them the word of God. Hear the word of the Lord. And as Ezekiel speaks, I will cause breath[a] to enter you, and you shall live. If we gathered with us last week, this should make a connection. When God created Adam, when God took the dust of the ground and formed it into a person, God breathed life into Adam. And now, once again, the breath of God will bring life into these dry bones. This is a story of re-creation, or renewal, of rebirth, of restoration.
The word of God is able to overcome a deep sense of hopelessness and despair, to is bringing a message of purpose to the people, that their lives have meaning even in exile. God’s word brings a sense of belonging, it is life giving, even in exile, the word of God can connect them to what they feel they have been cut off from. The word of God breathes life into dry bones. Bones can be seen as the soul, as the deepest part of the self. Ezekiel is God’s messenger, Ezekiel becomes God’s presence to the people in the midst of this disaster. God sends him to God’s people because our God is a God of love and compassion and life. God sees the people’s pain, loss, and despair and does not just leave them in this disaster alone. God understands that disasters disrupt our spiritual selves and Ezekiel brings that pastoral care that the people so desperately needed. Life was brought back into those dry bones and a promise was given: and I will bring you back to the land of Israel.
I am finding so many connections to our current situation to that of Ezekiel. In a much smaller sense, we too are exiles. We have been exiled from our social gatherings, from our extended families, from our loved ones and we must learn how to navigate these times. If anyone does sense hopelessness or deep spiritual dryness, please reach out. Being isolated is not normal, so we may have new feelings and struggles and thoughts of despair and perhaps a feeling of helplessness. We want to be in the recovery stage where we can help. And that is going to be trying on us. Our natural tendencies may be limited right now. Our deep sense of meaning and purpose might have limitations right now and that is what makes this current disaster different from others. Riding out this storm is going to take time but there will be work to do when it is over. And we will be able to leave our exile and return back to our communities and be reunited in person once again. And in the meantime, God is with us. God is breathing life into us.