by Christópher Abreu Rosario
This is a reflection on the prayer “The Valley of Dry Bones.”
At first glance, this prayer seems like one of despair and deep lament. However, the references to the valley of dry bones (vv. 1, 8, 15) point to the Ezekiel 37 text where God shows us the hope of renewal. But I should not get too ahead of myself. Out of respect for the writer, I am inclined to listen to the words that cry out in deep pain. The other line that repeats the valley reference is “we have lost our identity, we have lost our humanity” (vv. 2, 9, 16). The loss of humanity is more than the loss of skin, flesh, and sinews (Ez 37:6), I wonder if the missing element is that of breath (Ez 37:8)?
The first stanza speaks of the loss of humanity relating to a social numbness, a loss of connection and empathy (vv. 1–7). The second stanza explains where the lack of empathy comes from: murder, war, death, and trafficking (vv. 8–14). These causes are also the symptoms/consequences of lack of empathy in the world. The third stanza calls out to God to come and restore creation and the broken relationships of this world (vv. 15–25).
Interestingly, the writer asks God to “descend upon us, once again” (v. 17). I wonder if the prior reference to God descending is referring to the time in the Garden of Eden (Gn 1–3), to when God descended in liberating the people from the Tower of Babel (Gn 11), when God descended in liberating the people from Pharaoh (Ex 12), or when God descended in the narrative of Ezekiel to remind the prophet that God is still with the people (Ez 37)? I wonder if perhaps it refers to when God descended as a helpless baby known to us as Jesus (Mt 1, Lk 1–2).
I wonder, if perhaps, the reference is to when Jesus descended to the land of the dead (Apostle’s Creed)? Considering that the writer of this prayer is illustrating a world that is reflective of destruction, pain, and non-stop death, I can infer that perhaps this world is very much the land of the dead. Very much, hell. What does it mean to invite God to come here, to invite God to visit hell?
I think the turning point is in the invitation. God is being invited to visit hell to restore humanity by enabling the fallen people to use their own agency in rebuilding the relationships that will flip the world into right order (vv. 17–25). After all, did Jesus not spend three days in the land of the dead, only to rise again? Is this event not the crux of our faith? What did Jesus do, while there in the land of nothing? In the land devoid of breath? He was present. He remained, and when it was time to continue the journey, he returned to the disciples and told them to continue the work. There is an interesting parallel in this prayer in asking God to come here, only to empower us to continue the work ourselves.
It was indeed Ezekiel who prophesied for the breath to enter the bones and bring them back to life (Ez 37:10). God visited, and God was present, and God empowered.
What does it mean for us to set the world right again? It seems that though God is with us, we are encouraged to do the work ourselves. The writer of this prayer is very much aware of the world we live in, is aware that though God is present and witness, that our role is to fix this mess. Very importantly, for the writer, it seems that cleaning up is not enough. For them, and I in agreement, we are to create a world where we can play (v. 25). To play carefree, without fear, constraint, or embarrassment. After all, once you have restored hell, what is there left to be afraid of?