The liturgical readings for today, Pentecost Sunday, can be found here.
“Can these bones come to life” is the question God asks Ezekiel (37:1-14) in the (optional) First Reading for the Vigil Mass for Pentecost Sunday. In the text, God leads Ezekiel to a valley filled with bones — a metaphor for the whole house of Israel, which has lost its identity as a nation and lies scattered, stripped off its land, ruler, and Temple. God makes Ezekiel walk among the bones, and Ezekiel notices how many there were.
The historical narrative behind Ezekiel’s vision is the Babylonian exile. Israel had been divided and dispersed for so long that any hope for unification and restoration seemed bone-dry. Many of the psalms (137, 44, 79) record Israel’s songs of exile-anguish, often peppered with the taunt of other nations: “Where is their God?” (Psalm 115:2).
As I reflect on this reading, its parallel to the real-time struggle and displacement of the LGBTQ community is not lost on me.
A young man from northern Africa recently wrote to me, pleading, “I am gay and my family has disowned me.” He explained that in his country LGBTQ honor-killings are part of the culture. As he lives his life in hiding, he remains in constant fear that his family might be on the hunt for him, and that if found, he could be killed to preserve his family’s honor. In desperation, he writes, “I am lost. I cannot go to the police because it is not legal to be gay here.” Like many of the LGBTQ people in his land, he laments the erosion of basic rights like security, respect, and a stable life. The last few lines of his email remind me of a psalm-like distress: “Everything in my life has stopped. Please help me, my life is in danger.”
A student from Eastern Europe, who identifies as transfeminine, articulated their experience of gender displacement:
“I am Catholic. I am also an altar server and an acolyte-in-preparation at a church near my university. My church is organizing a retreat and on the registration form I am asked to provide my gender. I think it would be extremely dishonest from a spiritual point of view to check “male” which corresponds to my genitalia but not to my gender identity. Would it be a good idea to let them know what pronouns I use (they/them)?
“What I fear most is that if I do disclose my gender identity, I may be denied access to the retreat, being an acolyte, and perhaps even communion. This parish has a history of being strict on communion. Should I be honest or should I lie? Would God be angry at me for doing so?” (Reprinted with permission)
In the U.S., we are witnessing a slew of national measures that would restrict LGBTQ issues in school curriculums, permit religious entities to discriminate against LGBTQ people, and limit transgender rights. Is our LGBTQ/ally story any different from that of Israel in saying, “Our bones have dried up, our hope is lost, and we are cut off?”
As many in the LGBTQ world grieve their loss of identity, confront geographical or religious displacement, and long for restoration, how, then, do we appreciate a day like Pentecost Sunday? Where is our God in all this sadness and oppression?
God commands Ezekiel to “prophesy over the bones” the Word of God, and to say to the Spirit – “From the four winds, come, O Spirit, and breathe into these slain that they may come to life.”
Ezekiel obeys and God is able to do what God proclaimed: “I will open your graves and have you rise from them, and bring you back to the land of Israel” “I will put my spirit in you that you may live, and I will settle you upon the land. Thus you shall know that I am God. I have promised, and I will do it.”
To release the power of the Spirit, one is charged to prophesy the Word of God over “dry bones,” and in invoking the Spirit, be confident that these bones will come to life! That God “will do it,” is the greatest assurance we can take from the Ezekiel chapter and Pentecost.
“Seeing graves burst open and the spirit of the dead rising” is an image I frequently equate with mega social movements like Stonewall, Black Lives Matter, Women’s March, #MeToo, March for Our Lives, and Occupy Wall Street. The drama behind this collective emotion is nothing short of pentecostal in its aggregate. Today’s reading from Acts 2 describes the outpouring of God’s Spirit as the blowing of a violent wind, sparked with tongues of fire. These are images of powerful strength. Through the Holy Spirit, those possessed now speak with power, prophesy, see visions, and dream dreams.
Ashley, from Nebraska, who transitioned from male, wrote to me a few weeks ago, saying that after the surgery, “I believe God sent me an angel!?” Ashley continued:
“Because of the death threats, I was afraid to go to the local grocery store. So I would go through the drive-through of a local restaurant. There was a lady there I will never forget. She was so nice to me. Showered me with kindness and love! She made me realize that not everyone hated me and gave me the courage to go back into my community. The thing is, she meant so much to me. I wanted to thank her. Maybe even buy her dinner.
“One of the kind things she would do is give me free brownies. Anyway, when I noticed she was no longer working there. I asked the chef who had been there since the place had opened, “What happened to her?” He replied he had no idea who I was talking about, as he didn’t know anyone who worked there that fit her description.
“At first, my human side felt confused and even embarrassed. ‘I must be crazy,’ I thought. My spirit, though, knew that she was sent from God.
But what about the brownies? Did they just show up in my bag? I would not have ordered brownies back at that time in my life as I did not have the money to spend on such extravagant items. Anyways, I can go on and on. I am not even sure why I shared all this with you. And now, after so much time has passed.” (Reprinted with permission)
Ashley, I would like to say, thank you. Because in sharing “all this” you just made tangible the animate Spirit of God at work in your life. As I read your story, your return to your community, I keep hearing the glorious rattling noise of “bone joining bone” as the Spirit of God continues to breathe new life into us and makes us stand upright in wholeness.
And yes, sometimes there could be brownies as well.
—Dwayne Fernandes, New Ways Ministry, June 5, 2022