Welcome to the New Year, from the Valley

January 2, 2015

My family and I made an excursion to Death Valley National Park this week. Home to the lowest elevation spot in the Western Hemisphere—Badwater Basin—Death Valley in the summer is unbearably hot and dry (routinely 120° during the day, “cooling down” to 100° at night). We chose the wiser course and journeyed down during the last week of December. Theoretically, the average temperature in December is 65°, but during our stay the temperatures hovered in the mid-50s during the day, going down to the mid-30s at night. The wind howled, blowing sand and dust everywhere. We came home two days early; it was losing its appeal rather quickly.

Death Valley got its name from the first Western explorers, who experienced its mean and extreme climate and suffered loss of life as a result. In the years since, many have fallen upon the salt-crusted plains, dehydrated, sunburned, and ultimately breathless. They could have underestimated the perils, misjudged distances, or believed themselves invincible. But every year, innocents die and their unfound bones bleach in the unrelenting scrutiny of the sun.

It is Death Valley I think of when I read Ezekiel 37 about the Valley of Dry Bones:

1The hand of the LORD came upon me, and 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. 2He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. 3He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” 4Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. 5Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. 6I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD.”

7So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone.   I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. 9Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” 10I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

11Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ 12Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. 14I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act,” says the LORD.

This passage expresses the hope I have for new life in myself, in the church, and in the hearts of Jesus-followers in 2015.

For myself, I feel very alive and desire that my vitality would be the result of God working within me and through me for Kingdom purposes this year. The past fifteen months included a journey through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23), but I have made it through the narrow canyons and am in the broad vistas of life once again. Hallelujah! I am also well aware that the Breath of Life is not something I myself meter, but its source is God in unlimited supply. This year, I want to be infused with the Spirit of God for the life he has given me to live.

For the church, I feel a lot of energy-sapping discouragement. To be honest, my interest in denominational politics (particularly in my own tribe the Presbyterian Church [U.S.A.]) has waned into the “irrelevant” category. By saying so, I am not in any way diminishing the hard work and passionate faithfulness of many of my friends and former colleagues. Rather, I myself cannot escape the sense that my job in that realm is finished and that my contribution to the wellbeing of God’s people will take a different form than political activism. Denominations have been making choices over the last two decades, some of which I tried to prevent, and they will have to live with the implications of those decisions for a while. Perhaps at another time, a new sense of corporate regret will move into repentance, but I do not see that happening any time soon.

For Jesus-followers who feel that they have no spiritual home, who are hanging on to Christ but are fed up with the church—I am here for you. Almost weekly I encounter someone close to home here who hasn’t been in church for weeks, months, or even years. Their reasons have more to do with discouragement and hopelessness about the organization of the church and its leaders than with their own personal faith.

Believing as I do that Christian community is integral to Christian faith, the choice to be without church home is spiritually perilous, and yet it is a reality for many. I am here for you, not to create an online community, but to resource your formation of community where you live. If you feel yourself to be in exile from an institutional setting that previously fed and commissioned you, you may be suffering from paralysis or spiritual indifference that is spiritually dehydrating. Please, please, now is the time to stay near to Christ, find fellowship among the saints, and learn and grow in “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19).

More tomorrow on my plans for this blog in 2015.




One Response to “Welcome to the New Year, from the Valley”

  1. Goodness, Mary, we meet in that valley — you and I, who have come from different places (I nearly wrote “poles”) on the spectrum of progressive/conservative commitments in the PCUSA; we used to meet with different caucuses at Presbyterian General Assemblies, now we both find ourselves much less interested in that. I was surprised when I felt such little emotion or involvement in the decisions of the recent GA, and so much appreciation for the support and supporters I find in the feisty little congregation I’m part of.

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