The Word in the Wings
The Word in the Wings > From the study: breath for bones, hope for life
From the study: breath for bones, hope for life
By: KAYA PRASAD
In May 2022, Glorify Dance Theatre performs Come Alive, an original ballet about two young women who experience trials and transformation in their faith through relationships in high school and college. The ballet brings together the stories of characters who search for meaning and purpose from different sources and suggests that God’s spirit is a life-source with the power to sustain and restore.
To provide a Scriptural foundation for the story being told, the company has been studying Ezekiel 37:1-14. The book of Ezekiel is set in the context of Israel’s early exile in Babylon. Ezekiel is a would-be priest who is instead stuck in a foreign land. However, he learns that God is with Israel even in their exile, and God speaks to Ezekiel with words and visions that promise restoration for Israel and renewal for all the nations.
In the passage I’ve been studying with the dancers, God shows Ezekiel a valley of dry bones as a metaphor for Israel’s current state. The passage is structured around three commands to prophesy. The first is partially fulfilled, the second completed, and the third left open-ended. The fulfillment of the first two prophecies, in conjunction with the explicit comparison God makes between the subjects of the different prophecies, generates a basis for hoping that the third will eventually be carried to completion.
Ezekiel 37:1 Yahweh’s hand was on me, and it sent me out by Yahweh’s breath, and it rested me in the midst of the valley, and it was full of bones.
2 And it made me pass among them all around, and look, they are very many on the valley’s surface; and look, they are very dry.
3 And he said to me, “Mortal one, will these bones live?” and I said, “Master Yahweh, you know.”
When the passage opens, God shows Ezekiel a valley full of dry bones. The multitude of bones signifies widespread death, and the degree of dryness indicates that these once-bodies have been dead for a long time. It seems these bones are too far-gone to be healed and restored to life, but even now Ezekiel is not completely without hope; the prophet leaves that question in God’s hands.
4 And he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear Yahweh’s word.
5 Thus says Master Yahweh to these bones: Look, I’m about to bring breath into you so you may live.
6 And I will give you sinews and I will raise flesh over you and I will spread skin over you and I will give breath into you so you may live, and you will know that I am Yahweh.’”
7 And I prophesied as I was commanded, and there was a sound as I prophesied and there was a quaking and the bones came together, each bone to its bone.
8 And I looked, and look, there arose sinews and flesh over them, and skin spread over them from above–but there was no breath in them.
In this first prophecy, God commands Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones with a multifaceted promise of restoration. God bookends the prophecy with a promise to give “breath” for the purpose of restoring life. In addition, God promises to restore “sinews,” “flesh,” and “skin,” reconstituting a body that can receive the promised, life-giving breath.
Ezekiel prophesies as God commands, and part of the prophecy is fulfilled immediately: the bones are reconstituted into bodies. But Ezekiel’s description of restoration breaks off, and he remarks that part of God’s promise has not yet come to pass. He says, “there was no breath in them,” indicating that though the dry bones have been restored to bodily form, they have not been brought back to life.
In Act I of Come Alive, the audience learns about Zoe, one of the main characters, who is shaken by inexplicable tragedy as a teenager when her mom is killed in a car accident. She dances the solo Prove Me Wrong and externalizes the competing impulses within her. Zoe reaches for God, recalling what she’s been taught about God’s ability to heal and save the dying. At the same time, she holds herself back as she realizes it’s too late to hope that God will heal and save her mom. She wonders, how could God be good if God has the power to sustain life but didn’t use it?
Seeing that God does not sustain her mother, Zoe doubts that God will sustain her, and she gives up on God. As the story continues, Zoe becomes like the dry bones God shows Ezekiel, separated from God’s life-giving breath.
9 And he said to me, “Prophesy to the wind, prophesy, mortal one, and say to the wind, ‘Thus says Master Yahweh: Let breath come from the four winds and let it blow in these who’ve been killed so they may live.’”
10 And I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them and they lived and stood on their feet, a very, very great legion.
In the second prophecy, God commands Ezekiel to address the wind — the breath that hasn’t yet come to animate the reassembled bones. Once again, Ezekiel prophesies as commanded. Even though the first prophecy doesn’t show complete results, Ezekiel sees enough of God’s power to trust God and prophesy again.
This time, the prophecy is completed: breath comes, and the bodies “stood on their feet.” As God promises from the beginning, the bones are finally restored to life.
Another main character in Come Alive is Kia, whose faith is also shaken in high school by classmates who insist that academics will give her more in life than faith will. But in college Kia meets Ivy and sees that she is full of faith and life. When Kia establishes a connection with God’s spirit through conversations with Ivy, her own study of God’s word, and connection with spirit-inspired community, she experiences transformation and finds unimagined possibilities, being able to commit to her studies from a new-found sense of value and purpose found in faith. Even though Kia rejects God in high school, God persistently pursues her in college and eventually restores her to spirit-filled life.
11 And he said to me, “Mortal one, these bones are the whole house of Israel; look, they are saying, ‘Our bones are dry and our hope is lost; we are cut off entirely.’
12 Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says Master Yahweh: I am about to open your graves and I will raise you up from your graves, my people, and I will bring you to the land of Israel.
13 And you will know that I am Yahweh when I open your graves and raise you up from your graves, my people.
14 And I will put my breath in you so you may live, and I will rest you in your land, and you will know that I, Yahweh, have said and will do it, declares Yahweh.’”
God explains the significance of what Ezekiel has just seen: the valley of dry bones and their restoration to life symbolize the present and future of the people of Israel. In the third prophecy, God commands Ezekiel to address these people who, like dry, lifeless bones, are without hope in their exile. But unlike the previous two prophecies in this passage, Ezekiel doesn’t narrate how he conveys the prophecy or how it is fulfilled. Instead, the passage ends with God’s declaration of this promise: as the bones were given breath so they could live, so the people will be given God’s own breath, or spirit, so they may live.
The narrative lacks an explicit conclusion regarding the fate of Israel. However, if the dry bones represent Israel, and the bones were given breath and restored to life, then there is hope that Israel will likewise be given breath and restored to life.
The audience witnesses Kia transform in Act II of Come Alive by connecting with God and with faith-filled community. But the curtain closes before we find out what choice Zoe will make.
The parallels between Kia and Zoe’s stories, like the parallels between the dry bones and the house of Israel, suggest that fulfillment of the first represents future hope for the second. Having seen Kia come alive through God’s spirit, the audience hopes that Zoe will also come alive in this way.
But Ezekiel understands that it will take time for the people of Israel to be restored to life after exile. Likewise, the audience understands that it will take time for Zoe to grow in knowledge that God is good. At the end of the story, a question lingers: What can we do while we wait? For those of us who see and hope in God’s power, how do we partner with God for the sake of restoring life to the world?
Biblical quotations in this post are my own translation.
You can learn more about the context for the book of Ezekiel by watching a couple of videos by The Bible Project:
You can purchase tickets for Come Alive (May 20-21, 2022) here.
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