“The hand of the Lord was on me ... and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He 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.” Ezekiel 37: 1-14
“The bones seem to cut sharply to the center of something that is keenly alive in the desert, even tho’ it is vast and empty and untouchable — and knows no kindness for all its beauty.” — Georgia O’Keeffe
The story of the valley of dry bones has to do with bones being reassembled, fleshed and new life being breathed into them. It is a sort of reprise of the Genesis story. At that time, Israel was in a state of near death as a nation. The story represents the hope of survival and restoration for the Israelites.
The meaning for me of the valley of dry bones is quite different.
I remember finding in the remote desert of Oregon a basalt rim rock. On the north side of the long rim rock, windrows of sheep skeletons were piled up. The sheep had obviously been caught in a blizzard and had bunched up on the lee side of the rock in the harsh winds only to die of starvation and exposure. It is possible some of the bones eventually will be buried and fossilized to present a puzzle to some future paleontologist.
The rim rock of dry bones is one of many places in the Oregon desert that hold special meaning to me. The valley of dry bones represents the paradox of fecundity and death to be found underlying nature.
Nature creates abundance in numbers and forms, but at the same time there is a sort of indifference to their fate. Yet this birth/death recycling, as sanctified in human terms by the Jesus crucifixion/resurrection story, is a fundamental process of nature operating at all levels and scales over vast trajectories of time and space. In this way it becomes a kind of sacrament.
I realize now that everything is in a cycle, an entanglement of death and life and creation and rebirth. All things are in a vast symbiosis, made from the same template of fused atoms from the same stars, all embraced by the same gravity.
As Paul said in Romans, “From the beginning until now, the entire creation has been groaning in one great act of giving birth.”