Speaking to Bones
My experience with the oboe had magnificent beginnings. In fact, it was far more magnificent than I realized. I was in high school and had played in our orchestra for years, but I had never heard of the double-reeded instrument, much less the haunting sounds it made. Yet here in front of me was a woman with an oboe, a friend of a relative, offering to play for us. The sound was rich and beautiful. It was exactly the sound I imagined Mr. Tumnus playing on his flute for Lucy, the Narnian tune that made her "want to cry and laugh and dance and go to sleep all at the same time." I came home and immediately asked our director if he had any interest in adding an oboe to the mix.
I (and my family) soon learned the oboe was capable of sounds in great distinction from the ones I had heard that day. I spent no more than a month struggling with the nasally, often out-of-tune notes on my borrowed oboe before I turned it back in, completely defeated.
I have no idea why I thought it would come so easily. Perhaps it was the ease with which the instrument was initially played before me, its seeming similarly with the instrument I already knew, or my imagination of magical flutes in stories I loved. I had heard the tune of a master and convinced myself that I could mimic it. But the music was a gift that required years of labored mastering. The oboist I had met that afternoon was a member of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, yet this never seemed to enter my equation.
When Ezekiel was brought before a valley filled with dry and broken bones, he was immediately consumed by the vastness of it all. "The hand of the LORD came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry" (Ezekiel 37:1-2). One imagines Ezekiel walking among bones, weary of the vision, and despairing of his helplessness to change it.
There are some scenes in life we approach with utter dismay and fear at our ability to make a difference or accomplish the charge before us. Others, like my attempt at the oboe, begin with a skewed impression of the thing itself and our aptitude to hold it. I have approached the gift of Christ both with the dismay of one looking into a valley of impossible tasks and the foolishness of one not interested in practicing any of his words. But neither has forged me nearer to the gift himself.
Still, such approaches to Christ come naturally to many of us. Who can not tremble at some of the things he says? "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). The charge to live as one made in God's image seems at times futile, like bones in an open valley dreaming of wholeness. And yet, I was startled once—as if it were a foreign thought—at a friend's inquiry about my practice of life by the Spirit, and the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control that come from walking by the Spirit. We are at once both the child terrified at failing and the child who refuses to even try. Yet neither identity is set forth in Scripture.
In the valley that tired and overwhelmed him, Ezekiel was questioned by the one who put him there. "And He said to me, 'Son of man, can these bones live?' So I answered, 'O Lord GOD, You know'" (Ezekiel 37:3). His answer is both evidence to his wisdom and perhaps also a glimpse of his skepticism. Ezekiel doesn't respond that God is asking the unthinkable; he doesn't comment on the great number or dryness of the bones. Yet, he doesn't approach the question pretending to know less than he does about bones and biology either. Instead, he offers a reflection on the one who asked: "O Lord God, You know." Ezekiel gives the task back to God and then proceeds to follow God's instructions to speak the bones to life.
I believe my fleeting moments with the oboe had much to do with my fleeting motivation to practice. But I think similarly, I failed because of my underestimation of the accomplished musician before me. Seeing her for who she was could not have made me an oboist, but it might have shown me the way. How much more so this is true for the one who invites us to follow him and offers us the gift of his hand. In his life, death, and resurrection, Christ transfigures the impossible for us, giving us in his vicarious humanity a way of holding it. Christ takes us, dry and lifeless, and gives us both the words and the way to make our dry bones live.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.