The Valley of Dry Bones: A Pentecost Message from the Dean

MAY 23, 2015

“They say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.' Therefore 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. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I 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.”

–From Ezekiel 37:1-14 read on The Feast of Pentecost

Writing for The Atlantic on May 9, Matt Schiavenza, reported:
The campaign to eliminate the Ebola virus marked a significant milestone on Saturday, as the World Health Organization declared that Liberia was free of the disease. The announcement came 42 days after the safe burial of the last confirmed Liberian victim of the Ebola, a period equal to twice the virus’ incubation period. The news was met with jubilation in Liberia, which along with Sierra Leone and Guinea was the country most affected by the virus. But officials tempered their joy with a note of caution. “Let us celebrate, but stay mindful and vigilant,” said Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s president. Since the epidemic began last March, 10,564 people across Liberia contracted Ebola, nearly 250 out of every 100,000 people in the country, and 4,716 died. But the human toll still understates the sheer scope of the damage incurred by Liberia, one of Africa’s most impoverished countries.

Credit for defeating Ebola in Liberia and transforming what had become a valley of dry bones goes to the courageous health workers, who went door to door, neighborhood by neighborhood, dispelling myths and fears that kept people in patterns of disease transmission. As the community slowly mobilized block by block, house by house, people were taught that their daily practices and deeply held customs had to change. They had to agree not to hug and touch their friends and neighbors or family members who were sick. They had to stop the practice of bathing their dead for burial. Only as those behaviors changed – when they believed Ebola was a disease that could be arrested if these behaviors changed - could the valley of death become a place of new life. The victory they worked so hard to achieve was the result of people telling each other the truth and learning from one another.

Their healthcare system – hospital and clinics that were hotbeds of transmission – had collapsed. Understandably peoples’ confidence declined. A new problem still looms, because vaccinations declined, and Liberia now faces outbreaks of measles and whopping cough - diseases health leaders and politicians said Liberia had “almost forgotten about.” As Liberia faces many challenges, may it continue in those next chapters to inspire us.

Inspiration is an interesting word. It often refers to something that makes us want to act in a certain way. Inspiration can be something that gives us an idea about what to do or create, the force or influence that animates the act of creativity. The Feast of Pentecost was a moment of divine inspiration or influence, a sacred revelation of the power of God to unite in the midst of great diversity. The word can also refer to the act of drawing air into the lungs – probably derived from the ancient words about spirit that actually mean breath.

Maya Angelou said, “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” As we take in the Spirit of God, we become more and more open to the great adventures in store for us as we are inspired to do great things for God. We greet you from this Cathedral as all of us dare to engage deeply in the season of that Spirit.