Visions, Parables and Poetry

The hand of the LORD came upon me. He brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones.

He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.

Dry-bones1

And God said to me, “Mortal/son of man, can these bones live?”

Ezekiel 37
Dem bones

As African American slaves tilled the sandy soil of the South, they often sang spirituals taken from images of Scripture.

Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again,

Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again,

Dem bones, dem bones gonna rise again,

Now hear the word of the Lord!

Can you imagine how dry the bones of these weary people must have felt? How hopeless their lives must have seemed?

But the vision of Ezekiel gave them hope: “these bones gonna rise again!” Maybe not here, maybe not now but someday.

It’s a similar kind of hope Ezekiel’s own nation of Israel held as they were captives in Babylon. Ezekiel’s Vision offered an alternative future.

“Can these bones live?” the Lord asked Ezekiel. “Lord, you know,” he tactfully replied.

And – Lord knows – Israel did return to their homeland to rebuild their holy city. The people came to life again.

Mark’s Christians. More dry bones

Centuries later, Mark’s Christians endured the assault of Rome upon that same holy land. Once again, the city was leveled and the Temple destroyed.

Jesus’ followers remembered that he had promised to come again; (now would be a good time, they must have been thinking.)

But – no – difficult times dragged on and on.

Hearing again the stories of Jesus, remembering how he taught that things come to fullness in their time; hoping again in the God whose ways may be hidden but who is ever at work in the most ordinary events of our lives: would they have the ears to hear and the eyes to see this grace?

Would they, too, hold on to hope?

Surely the words and experience of their ancestor, Ezekiel in Exile, helped them hold on.

The whole house of Israel says: ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’

But you shall know that I am the LORD, when I…bring you up…O my people.

I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live… Then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken; I will act.

The stories of Scripture tell us truth

These stories tell us truth – truth about who we are as humans and who we are as a people created and formed by God.

They point us beyond what we see with our eyes in the here and now and they project alternate realities, different possibilities, other visions of what is and what may be.

storyteller

The storytellers and poets and visionaries among us play a crucial role; they help us make meaning. They help us to see.

  • Plato had his philosophies.
  • Einstein had his formulas.
  • But it is storytelling and poetry that is the way of Scripture.

Adam and Eve, Noah and the ark, Jonah and the whale, dry bone valleys – all these stories help us grasp a truth that is larger and deeper than facts; that is much more than history.

The stories of Scripture not only tell us something about who we are, where we’ve come from and where we’re going, but they also give us glimpses of truth about the God who is the Author and Goal of The Story; The One Overarching Story of which all our little stories are a part.

Storytelling in Mark’s gospel

Throughout Mark’s gospel, the parables show Jesus the Teacher proclaiming the kingdom of God. And yet Mark repeatedly says: the hearers did not understand.

So if Jesus was such a great teacher, why didn’t people understand what he taught?

Because (Mark believes) grasping the kingdom of God is not a matter of formulas or philosophies or scientific proofs. The kingdom of God is not appropriated by our feeble human efforts.

  • No, the kingdom of God is mystery.
  • It is gift.
  • It is miracle.
  • It is revelation.

The kingdom of heaven comes to us outside our control. The kingdom is God’s work and movement in the world.

Mark’s parables and Ezekiel’s visions are not meant to be dissected; they are intended to be discovered and experienced by our deeper ways of knowing.

This apocalypic poetry sparks our imagination and cultivates our curiosity; it brings us to wonder.

The stories of Scripture seep into our bones, find connection in our joints, wrap themselves around us like skin, breathe in and out of our lives until something new is birthed within us.

The storytellers and poets and visionaries of Scripture help us see the possibilities of our lives. They help us hear the whispers of heaven and the cry of our neighbor. They help us name what is real.

Storytellers, poets and preachers can help us make meaning.

As a preacher and a writer, my gift and burden and joy is to share in this process with you.

I yearn to give language to mystery like a Word become flesh.

I want to trust that – by God’s grace – willing listeners and obedient disciples may shift their perspectives and understandings (maybe even change their behavior!) so that when they move back they are different, wiser, stronger, better.

“The hope and the wager for the Christian preacher” (my preaching professor has said) “is that this language that comes to us in the Bible mediates a word that is God’s true word for us and for God’s church.

It is the bold hope that, against all odds, we have been given something more to say than our own best human thoughts.”

Lance Pape, The Scandal of Having Something to Say (Baylor University Press, 2013).

This is my hope as well. I want to craft and release words believing they can be breathed into life within someone else’s life by the mysterious power of Spirit.

Richard Lischer writes: “The preacher makes words, approximately fifteen-hundred of them, on a Sunday morning, three-million in a career, and over the long haul of ministry, she speaks into existence an alternative world.”

Richard Lischer, The End of Words: The Language of Reconciliation in a Culture of Violence (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005).

How is it the preacher can “speak into existence an alternative world?”

It is mystery.

How does meaning develop and grow in the ‘space’ of our lives that is womb and soil and potter’s wheel?

It is mystery.

How can words spoken in a particular time-place-people spark an encounter with the Absolute?

It is mystery.

How does the presence of God take root in what (for all the world) looks like barren soil?

It is mystery.

How does the breath of God blow over the dry valleys of our lives and resurrect hope and meaning and a future?

It is mystery.

Beyond and within history
boy_reading_bible-1

The parables, poems and visions of Scripture invite us into another world, another reality, into the infinite world of the God beyond history who has acted and continues to act within history.

The world of the text invites us to see all our smaller human realities within the cosmic reality of the Eternal One.

We are configured and reconfigured according to this reality to which the text bears witness. And we are invited to invite others to share in this ever-new journey with us.

It is journey to life and love and abundance. It is journey in mystery, hope and joy.


Living in The Story readings for Week 43

Ezekiel 1-21

Ezekiel 22-48

Psalm 80

Psalm 82

Psalm 83

Mark 6

Revelation 16-18

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Author: Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Charlotte lives and blogs in Paris TX. She is ordained within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and developed Living in The Story while doing doctoral work at Brite Divinity School in Ft. Worth. Charlotte also blogs about intersections of faith, politics and culture at CharlotteVaughanCoyle.com.

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