We are all beginning a mythic hero’s journey in which the land is becoming a wasteland from coronavirus. Driving down the main street in our little town and seeing images of New York City and Atlanta makes that very clear.
When Jesus began his journey he dealt with his own wasteland experience. Immediately after his baptism in the Jordan, Mark tells us “The Spirit sent him out into the wilderness” (1:12), where he faced the temptations of Satan; or from a more Jungian perspective, his own shadow and where he is aided by his better angels.
In Sunday’s reading, The Holy One asks Ezekiel, “Son of Man, do you think these bones can live?" Ezekiel diplomatically answers, “Certainly you know the answer better than I do.” Of course a similar question is on our minds: Will I live? Will my loved ones live? Can our nation, as we know it, come back to life?
But the Divine One says: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these that they may live” (Ezekiel 37: 9). Now I do not want to suggest that somehow God will come along and smite this virus. I have served as a chaplain and counselor long enough to know that life threatening disease is indiscriminate. It comes to those with little or no faith and to those with strong faith. I don’t pretend to know how it all works and for me theology falls short in giving a satisfactory answer.
I think the key element of this reading is the importance of breath. The word for breath in Hebrew, ruach, also means spirit. We take for granted the miracle of air and breath. Each breath we inhale, invigorates our heart, mind, and entire body from the first moment of life until our death. This coronavirus attacks our very ability to breathe and it can weaken our spirit.
On our recent vacation in Hawaii we had the opportunity to attend the show at the Polynesian Cultural Center. It was an amazing combination of stage musical with traditional Polynesian singing and dancing. The title of the show was Ha - The Breath of Life. The show began and ended with the birth of a baby. Just after the birth of his child, the father held the baby’s face close to his own and breathed loudly making the sound, “haaa”, breathing the life force, the spirit into his child. We also learned on our trip that the Hawaiian greeting of aloha, has a much deeper meaning to the local Hawaiian people. Beside a greeting it means love, compassion and the presence of divine breath.
The Navajo people have a similar tradition, The Wind comes to each individual at the moment of birth and gives each child the vital breath of life. Soon after their birth, Navajo babies are ceremoniously presented to the winds who reside in the North, South, East, and West, who give them a "little wind" to remind them that the life and breath that sustains them and dwells within them is entwined with the Holy Wind that encompasses the cosmos.
I love this meaning. It gives me hope. I encourage you to think that whenever you take a breath, at least six feet away from others for now, you are breathing in the divine breath, the breath that has given life across the ages on this earth. When you go outside and you feel the wind blow across your face, that is the breath of the Divine reaching out to cool you, to touch you, to give you life. How different our lives might be if we were all conscious of breathing the divine spirit in and out to nourish us with viriditas and bring our dry bones back to life.