Week 3 Reflection: Healing dry bones

I have felt called to play close attention to how the Holy Spirit is moving in my particular life-turned-upside-down circumstances. Three and a half months ago, I was into my 11th year of working at a Jesuit parish I loved in Los Angeles. Then in early March my Tsunami God suddenly whisks my brother to heaven, leaving my family with our jaws dropped. Wow, can Reality just take one of our favorite people away without a moment’s notice? Then the pandemic happens, taking the lives of thousands and plunging millions into unemployment. Then George Floyd’s brutal death and an outpouring of protests for Black Lives Matters.

In the midst of all this as I shelter in place with my elderly dad and niece in Miami, I am painfully aware of how our Catholic Church as an institution is struggling to keep central what Jesus kept central – standing for and with those on the margins, creating a community of radical inclusivity, and showing the pathway to generous forgiveness, healing and wholeness. We are a church that is painfully divided, family by family. While some want the church to prioritize ending racism towards black people and undocumented Latinx, others maintain that abortion is the single issue on which Catholics must vote in the upcoming presidential election. My restless self wonders if the complex abortion issue has become a cover for some Catholics not wanting to wrestle with and face the impact of sexism, racism, homophobia and widespread poverty and social inequality on people’s lives in our church and in our country.

This week’s Monday reflection on dry bones pointed me to the dry bones of my own discouragement with extended family members. I put aside my discouragement long enough to imagine the world-wide church of my dreams and to write that down for our Week 3 Prompt. I can glimpse that far-off destination across a hot desert of dry bones.

Earlier this week I signed an open letter by Latinx leaders titled, “Somos for Black Lives”. What does it mean for me to engage in the promises of this letter as a middle-class, Cuban-American, Catholic female? What is God asking of me? What is mine to do? How can I be a catalyst for new life to emerge out of dry bones?

In the comments, Jenny Ocegueda asked me if some of the fears and behaviors of my extended family members might be connected to their image of God. If so, how could I help them to “expand” their image and understanding of who God is?

Then as if God wanted to confirm Jenny’s question, I watched a dispute unfold on facebook between two aunts. One affirmed Gay Pride month and her love for her GLBTQ+ family and friends. The other aunt criticized her and said: “You do not understand, you can love the sinner but hate the sin. Do not glorify an act that will gain them eternal damnation unless they repent.”

Wow, there it was – a scared aunt’s terrifying image of God. It seems like a leftover distorted image of God from the time of the Inquisition, and yet apparently the damage of the Inquisition still resides in our Catholic bones in 2020.

While Jenny’s question is difficult and complex, I do feel a spark of direction. Look here, it says. See the image of God your scared aunt is holding in her tired arms. Speak to that.

I hear God asking me to engage in crucial conversations. I hear God asking me to build the safety for others to speak. I hear God asking me to care about how healing happens in people bearing multi-generational wounds. I hear God asking me to speak restorative justice. I hear God asking me to bring awareness to conflict styles. I hear God asking me to be vulnerable, to show myself, to share I care about others with whom I disagree, and to step into my deepest beliefs without any guarantees of success. I hear the possibility of a tiny piece of dry bone mending.

8 thoughts on “Week 3 Reflection: Healing dry bones

  1. Ellie, it sounds like your aunt is carrying a wound of long ago and of many generations, as you mentioned. How could you gently invite her to look for a different image of our loving God? How could you possibly help her to find the courage and strength to let go of that which has her so bound? How could you be a bearer of healing for her? Blessings.

  2. Ellie,

    This was beautiful and insightful. Your thoughts on the issue of abortion being a “cover” for real engagement in other difficult social issues are also mine. It seems that some people cling to that issue instead of being challenged to the greater work of battling other equally important life issues today. There are so many vunerable members in our society that are in need of our help, yet those voices seem to go unheard by the community that claim to fight for life. I too struggle with this. I hope that one day we can fight for all the vunerable with the same level of conviction.

    Despite this, you have given me hope. I love the image of working to “mend” the dry bones of our lives. I know some live inside me and are in need of healing. At present, I too struggle with a church that I feel lacks acceptance or an ability to change to love and fight for those at the margins. Your vision gives me a different perspective. Perhaps, what needs to grow is not their ability to love but their image of God. It’s a theological issue that if expanded can allow for a wider view of church and a bigger heart of welcome.

    I truly believe that our view of God allows us to see things with new eyes, and seeing the all encompassing love of God can change our hearts.

    As I struggle with heartless comments posted on social media in this time of racial tension, this new way to enliven the bones of those around me gives me hope. How can I help widen their view of God’s love? From that, how can I challenge the people of God to show love in unprecedented ways.

    Thank you.

  3. Ellie, it’s really cool that this group is helping God show you places that you can actually get some footing…somewhere deeper than the “surface” issues that divide churches and families. Your description of your aunts reminds me of a story my spiritual director told me…she worked in a pretty politically/religiously conservative area and as a director who used a lot of Ignatian spirituality, she said that she was often choosing her words carefully in direction to help protect her spirituality center and herself so that she could keep doing her work. Once a woman came to her for direction, and said, “Do you believe in hell?”

    The director chose her words very carefully, saying something like, “I am still praying about that. I believe that a lot of people experience hell on earth, and I believe in God’s forgiveness and love which are always available.” For a while she wondered whether she would hear from anyone in the diocese about these words. But she said that months after the woman had finished her direction, she sent the director a card full of all of the Bible verses that mentioned hell. Underneath the verses, the woman wrote, “I hope it isn’t true.”

    I want to encourage you, and thank you for your open-heartedness.

  4. Dear Ellie, thank you for this thought-ful and heart-full reflection. There is wisdom in your naming of fear: in those with blinders on who focus on abortion exclusively and choose not to engage with sexism, racism, homophobia, and pervasive poverty social inequality, and in your aunt who posts about eternal damnation. So often (within ourselves and others) what is behind unkindness or even cruel behavior is fear – fear which asks to be seen and held and cared for. You are naming a call to create spaces of conversation and care where fear might be met with compassion.

    You have named restorative justice more than once now here in these spaces. I wonder what a next step might be in learning/practicing restorative justice – what to read, which teachers/organizations to engage with, which trainings to pursue – to equip you for this vision you name?

  5. Ellie, I too would like to know a different way to engage with my own family members who are like your aunt. My mom especially. For her, it’s sheer numbers. A million deaths a year from abortion in the US; 40-50 million a year around the world. If these deaths are on par with other violent deaths, then yes, it is horrific, and the most important issue of our time. But is it? And if not, why not? My mom also shares the homosexuality damnation stuff as well, so she is in deep mourning for my soul.

  6. just did a video on dry bones last week from the book of ezekiel and saw your post today, it resonated with me so much ..well done….if you’d like to check my video please visit my channel by typing thegodminute/sophialorenabenjamin on youtube or i can share a link with your permission. Be blessed.

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