Sun, Mar 29, 2020

When life's great illusion is shattered...

Duration:12 mins 34 secs

As we cheerfully and contentedly sat down to our Christmas dinners…

none of us could have imagined––

barely three months later––

that we would be where we are now:

the stock market in free-fall…

decimating our superannuation savings;

our borders effectively closed and virtually all air travel grounded;

pubs, cafés, and restaurants closed…

so, too, all social and sporting facilities, and all churches…

and soon most retail stores will be closed as well.

It’s estimated that more than ninety percent of businesses will be affected––

many will never recover––

and more than one million Australians will lose their jobs.

Comparisons with the Great Depression are being made.

The biggest impact of this pandemic, however, has probably been social.

Where once we shook hands and hugged…

now we have to keep our distance.

Restrictions on attending funerals are hampering our grieving.

We’re being urged to stay home…

and to venture out only if really necessary…

which, of course, is hard for those with young children…

and especially hard for those who live alone or in care.

Social distancing can easily turn into social isolation.

And there are already warnings about the mental health implications of all this…

not to mention the significant spike in domestic and family violence.

It’s a scary time!

Statistically-speaking, the majority of us will probably get infected…

and some of us won’t survive.

And, of course, all of us probably live with the fear that––

with each encounter that we have––

we might catch it…

or, without realising it, we might pass it on to someone else.

It would also be quite normal to be anxious and fearful of the world into which we will re-emerge––

because it’s going to be a very different world.

Already, experts are speculating about what this will mean for the way that we live in the future:

about the way that we shop and pay for things;

the way that we travel;

the way that we educate our children;

the way that we organise business, government, public transport, and social spaces.

The world, as we know it, has changed.

The world will never again be as it was before.

It shouldn’t be surprising, then, if all of that leaves us feeling anxious, fearful, even overwhelmed. 

After all, it’s shattering perhaps our most fundamental existential illusion––

the unspoken assumption upon which nearly all of us operate, nearly all of the time…


that we are in control.

For the most part, that’s how we live.

That’s how we plan our day…

our week…

our lives.

We live with this naïve illusion of control––

operating as if the world is a safe place;

that bad things, generally, only happen to other people;

or to us, only if we’re really unlucky.

It takes a major crisis, such as this, to shatter that illusion;

to remind us that the fundamental reality of life is uncertainty;

that the world is not a safe place––

and never really has been––

and that we are not, in any way, in control.

And, such an experience of profound disillusionment will often prompt us to call into question all of our other assumptions…

all of our certainties…

and all of our taken-for-granteds:

our sense of identity;

our sense of belonging;

our sense of purpose.


Collectively, that would have been the experience of the people to whom Ezekiel wrote.

And in our reading, he describes a vision that he had…

in which God placed him in a valley full of dry bones.

And, Ezekiel explains, these bones represent “the whole house of Israel”

who cry out, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely”.

At the time he wrote this, the people of Israel were living in exile in Babylon.

They had been conquered… 

and many of their kin and compatriots had been killed.

The Temple––

the cornerstone of their religious faith…

and the symbol of God’s presence with them…

and of God’s promises to them–– 

had been looted and destroyed.

And they had been dragged off by their conquerors to a foreign land…

forced to leave behind their homes… 

their possessions… 

their country––

everything that was familiar…

everything that gave them identity.

They were treated with ridicule––

their faith derided––

and their hopes, dreams, and expectations were shattered.

So they were grieving deeply––

feeling abandoned by God––

disillusioned and despairing.

And the image that they use is a powerful one:

like a valley full of bones––

as if the result of a great massacre…

with bodies strewn everywhere…

not even accorded the dignity of a burial…

but subjected to the worst form of disgrace imaginable—

simply left to rot where they fell;

their bones bleached white, dry, and brittle––

a great pile, scattered, not even skeletons;

and not a trace of life left in them.

The exiled people of Israel were on a downward spiral:

overwhelmed by life…

and by all that they had lost...

so that they felt like they might as well have been dead.

They were utterly without hope.


And yet…

into that context of disillusionment and despair––

to a people who felt hopeless, lifeless, and dead––

Ezekiel offered a very different image:

of bones re-joined;

of skeletons re-fleshed;

of bodies re-animated;

of lives, of a people, revived and renewed.

Into their experience of social…


and spiritual death…

he offered God’s promise that they would be restored;

he offered God’s reassurance that, once again, they would live. 

On one level, of course, the image that he offers is simply that of a resuscitation––

an impression that they, and the world that they knew, would simply be restored.

And yet, on another level––

perhaps slightly subtly––

he’s suggesting something else.

Especially in the original Hebrew, the language that he uses–– 

of God commanding the wind to come…

and to breathe in new life––

intentionally recalls the Genesis creation account…

when God breathed into the human formed from the dust.

As such…

Ezekiel’s vision is not simply of a return to the world of old.

It is, rather, the promise of a new creation.


And, maybe, for us…

this vision stands as a reassurance that we will emerge from our current crisis––

and from our shared experiences of fear, disillusionment, and grief–– 

into a kinder, more compassionate society.

Maybe we’ll create a new world:

one in which those on welfare are no longer demonised…

and where the marginalised and vulnerable are protected;

one in which transparency is the hallmark of government…

and in which budgetary… 

and structural priority… 

is given to health, housing, and a universal social-safety-net.

And yet, such grand hopes may be too broad and too nebulous for many of us…

right now…

and may do little to assuage our everyday concerns about what our lives will be like.


we are reminded––

through this powerful vision of Ezekiel’s––

that even when we feel dead and lifeless…

God is still there…

with us;

and God, in the end, is the very source and origin of life.

It is in that

that we are called to place our hope.

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