(with a nod to Old Mother Hubbard)
lived in a condo
that catered to old men and Crones.
Guys shoveled her drive,
kept bushes alive
and hooked up her oven and phones.
The condo told Janet,
“We’ll give you new granite.
We’ll replace old gutters and floors.
But try not to slip
and fracture a hip,
because if you break it, it’s yours.”
The Vision of the Valley of Dry Bones
by Gustave Dore
This past Saturday morning during our congregation’s Zoom service, Rabbi reminded us that this was the Shabbat on which we traditionally chant the haftarah re: Ezekiel’s vision of the Valley of Dry Bones, with all its scattered vertebra rattling together with sinew & flesh & skin plus the breath & wind & spirit gathering from the four corners of the earth until ZAP — dusty ulna & femurs & skulls snapped together and skeletons stood up on their metatarsals like soldiers.
At that point, I spaced off the service and focused on Dem bones, Dem bones, Dem dry bones, humming the song inside my head because sciatica was moving painfully from my rear down my left leg which happens more and more as I sit, captive, reading or watching TV or futzing on my computer for these Zoom Shabbats when, to be honest, I often spend less time praying and more time looking at the thumbnail faces of my fellow congregants (Fem.) to see how much their roots have grown out since last week or if they’re wearing makeup, and every Shabbat I’m thrilled to see one of our members (Masc.) spiffed up in a white shirt with tie and sport coat like he’s davening in shul and not at home where what difference would it make but come on, it’s Shabbat, and he’s going to honor it, by golly. So, yes. I lost my concentration, my intention, my kavanah, over Ezekiel’s vision and Dem Bones, which segued into my bones and three topics to Google and share with you.
1. The Vision
Prophets often acted and spoke erratically for dramatic effect, but Ezekiel’s behavior was so bizarre it's been the subject of psychoanalytical studies. One, titled Ezekiel’s Abnormal Personality, another titled Swallowing the Scroll, claim that though capable of great religious insight, Ezekiel showed signs of emotional paralysis, hallucinatory ecstasy, delusions of grandeur, etc., all consistent with paranoid schizophrenia. To be fair, various commentators and psychiatrists poo-poo these diagnoses, and I applaud them. Why not simply pretend Zeke stumbled onto a patch of Xtra-potent mushrooms. Or inhaled second-hand smoke from his hashish-using Bedouin neighbors. In any case, Ezekiel lived in interesting times, as do we. Seeing so much death (even hearing about so much death, if you get my drift) could make a person loony, right? Right.
2. Dem Bones
With lyrics inspired by Ezekiel and music composed in the 1920s by the African-American author/poet/songwriter James Weldon Johnson, Dem Bones, (writes Helen Brown in the Financial Times) was handed down to us from a place of profound suffering, the prophecy of a Jewish slave in Babylonian captivity, passed from slave to slave until it became a familiar gospel sermon in African-American churches. The biblical passage is sometimes interpreted as a promise of resurrection (let’s not go there . . .) but Ezekiel’s vision was of the subjugated Jewish people and their survival. Though Dem Bones sounds like a goofy anatomy lesson for kids, Johnson wrote the song’s melody while serving as Executive Secretary of the NAACP, determined to bring national attention to the racism, lynching, and segregation of his time. Today, says Helen Brown, Dem Bones echoes an ancient biblical refugee crisis and stands as the perfect anthem for the current struggle for racial, gender and economic equality, to name a few of society’s shortcomings. Amen, sister. Great backstory.
3. My bones
Okay. I know that sitting too much is bad juju. For ages, my family and friends (frustrated like Eliza Doolittle at Ascot) have yelled, “Move your bloomin’ arse.” My FitBit pleads, WALK ME. So for a week, maybe two, I climb on the treadmill. Then I stop. Please don’t ask, Why? I dunno. I do know that my joints, to remain healthy, need to move and stay lubricated, otherwise they’ll soon creak like rusty hinges on an old screen door. So consider this an invitation. More like an SOS. Will someone out there please be my exercise buddy? Shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll set up a schedule. Like so many steps on so many days. You name it. Remember. To think about the welfare of another person is a mitzvah of the highest order.
Which takes us back to last Shabbat’s services. Several times in the liturgy we say, Oseh Shalom bimromav, hu ya’aseh shalom aleynu, v’al kal yisrael, v’imru, ameyn. May the One who creates peace on high bring peace to us and to all Israel. And let us say: Amen. This week, Rabbi Steven suggested we add the words v’al kal yoshvei tevel to the end of the prayer, making it now read: May the One who creates peace on high bring peace to us and to all Israel and to all who dwell on earth. And let us say: Amen. Oh, such a meaningful addition. To acknowledge that others on this planet deserve peace, too, and that other lives, besides our own, matter. Love it, Steven. Thank you.
Well, waddaya know? It seems I didn’t space off the entire service after all.
Another Metta prayer to take you through the week.
May all beings have fresh clean water to drink.
May all beings have food to eat.
May all beings have a home.
May all beings have someone to share love with.
May all beings know their true purpose.
May all beings be well and happy.
May all beings be free from suffering.
Today I shall do what I can, to make this so.
Sending love all over the place.