Dry Bones Days

by Hugh Farquhar

The Psalm chosen by the designers of the Lectionary for this Sunday, Palm/Passion Sunday, is Psalm 31:9-16.

For reasons I cannot explain, I found myself focusing on verse 10: “My strength fails me . . . my bones are wasted away.” This does not describe me just now, but I’ve been there.

This is a Psalm of lament in which the writer is going through a rough time. The exact reasons are not clear, but they involve being rejected and vilified by others, something Jesus experienced, on his way to the cross. The verses drip with a sense of loneliness and a desperate reaching out to God.

That leads me to my first thought, not so much mine, but articulated by Artur Weiser in his book The Psalms: “Here we gain an insight into the extent of God’s love – by the fact that worshippers in spite of all the stereotyped forms to which they are tied can plainly and frankly confess the spontaneous emotions that stir their hearts in their distress; by the fact that worshippers are allowed to come into the presence of God without hiding anything.”

This is the genius of the Psalms – these passionate expressions that arose from the heart and soul of the people of ancient Israel, giving voice to their unique and remarkable sense of the spiritual journey in all its aspects through poetry and music. As we take them on our lips, we can identify with each of these experiences and feelings.

And so with failing strength, and bones that are wasting away – easily a simile for that feeling so familiar to many of us during this pandemic. A friend placed a meme on my Facebook page that reads, “I can’t remember the last time I wasn’t at least kind of tired.”

Joyce Rupp, in her book “May I Have This Dance,” talks about “dry bones feelings.” “Every once in a while,” she writes, “I feel like a heap of dry bones. Life’s unexpected turns, extended illness, or the eruption of harsh criticism from too many outside or inner voices can lead us to the valley of lifelessness. We just drag along, without much inner joy or hope. We just feel like we’ve run out of gas or that we are dead inside.”

I’m certain most of us can identify with those dry bones feelings. Don’t we all experience times of feeling desolate, feeling the deadening effects of losses in our lives, feeling like the spiritual wind has been knocked out of us, feeling the sting of loneliness?

Where do we take that stuff? To the God of love in whose presence we don’t need to hide anything. Skip ahead to verse 31 of this Psalm and hear the author exclaim: “Blessed be the Holy One who has wondrously shown steadfast love to me” I don’t mean to God “up there,” but to the Spirit of Love who is with us always.

I’ve been reading the writings of Hildegard of Bingen lately. Some of them are tough sledding intellectually, but not this: “God hugs you. You are encircled by the arms of the mystery of God.”

With that spiritual base in our lives, we have someone in whom to confide, whose steadfast love reminds us that in the darkness of a bulb, there is a flower; in the tomb of a cocoon, there is a butterfly; and “in the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be.”

Or in Joyce Rupp’s words, “There can be life waiting to dance in dry bones.”

Hugh Farquhar is Minister Emeritus at St. Paul’s United Church, Riverview, NB, and teaches Biblical Studies at Atlantic School of Theology, Halifax, NS.

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