In some ways my first matriculation was just the writing of my name in a book. In some ways it was the most significant change in my life. I attended Matriculation at EDS yesterday evening, as I did for the first time in 1998, and have many times since, and as always, it filled me with memories, passion; it filled me with the spirit of life starting anew.
Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones pushes us think of life anew, but I have particularly dry bones in my spiritual life right now, and I’ve learned you can get to the place that the bones are so dry you cannot imagine something new. When Ezekiel is asked if the bones can live and replies “Oh Lord, you know” I’ve lately hear that as “of course you know it is impossible.” I’ve been at that impossible, hopeless place for a long time, through many other matriculations, but last night, somehow, I was sitting in St. John’s Chapel imagining what gifts the breath of the spirit bring.
Dr. Angela Bauer-Leveque reminded us that newness and dry bone-ness flow in and out of community; that we have graduations and good-byes and matriculations and hellos. She reminded us that we are forming community, not as one stable, supportive, concrete thing, but rather like breath, coming out and going in, changing in tempo and humidity and shallowness and noise. Sometimes community sounds like the chaos of Pentecost, a jumble of unknown languages from unpronounceable towns, making our neighbors think we are drunk. Sometimes it sounds like the gathering song “I’m Goin’-a Sing”!
Sitting in Chapel yesterday I remembered the feeling of joyful singing that I felt at my graduation, but more than that I remembered the impossible challenges of my life. I remembered the complete fear I had to start school: could I learn this new thing? And I remembered the many struggles this school has faced over the passing years. I remembered the small church I served, and the struggles there, and the closing service, the ministry with people who could not break free from their addictions, the summer five parishioners got housing and then died. And I remembered my individual traumas: my divorce, the death of my ex from her alcoholism, the moving to cheaper and cheaper apartments, the horrible car accident, the suicide of my niece.
I remember sitting at a matriculation, many years after my graduation, and sobbing through the entire service, feeling that the hope expressed in signing this book was all a lie. I was stuck in my individual-ness and in the dry bones.
As schools and as churches and as individuals, we have all had times when the bones are very dry. In school and church and in my life I had reached the point that I could not ask God whether the bones can live again for I could not speak to God, could not speak of God, could not allow space for God. If God were to tell me to prophesy to the breath, I would refuse, I would turn away, I would not hear.
But Angela’s point was that we do not live-again individually, we live-again with each other. When I turn away from God my neighbor beside me turns toward me and toward God. Someone in the crowd can prophesy to the breath. Someone in community understands the language of Pentecost and translates it for us. Someone else has made space for God. Angela reminded us to engage, to tell stories, to check out our assumptions, to ask questions. These are the works of scholars, but are also the works of community.
And so I sat in the EDS community at Matriculation and could see all around me that this is a new day, a new beginning, a new community. It will not stay the same. It will not all work out all right. It is not the start of Kingdom. I have not suddenly become a person full of hope. And yet, at the same time, I could see that in this community the bones will connect, the spirit will be within us, and we shall live. We will know from each other that God is indeed God of life.