Some thoughts on Exile and the Dislocated Bones of Ezekiel’s Imagination

Ezekiel is ecstatic in his prophecy. His visions are psychadelic. I wonder if it is this that brings his prophecy home to his fellow exiles – themselves ecstatic in the sense that they are far from home, removed from their stasis. His colourful language in response to God’s call and the suffering of their exile even resonates with us. For example, Ezekiel gives us the image of wheels within wheels which is the phrase often used to describe the powers that be. And, of course, it is Ezekiel who has given us the singalong Dry Bones as he explored the exile experience of dislocation and displacement and their eventual revival and replacement through the image of those dry bones.

(Here’s the Delta Rhythm Boys singing Dry Bones.)

Ezekiel sees the hand of God in exile. According to Ezekiel, it is God who drove Ezekiel and his fellow exiles out, for the sake of their safety. He sees the glory of God moving with them, abandoning the old place and travelling with them to their many places. Far and wide they are scattered and dispersed, becoming a diaspora. God is the scatterer rather than the perpetrators of violence and occupation and he scatters them to save them from the violence and occupation.

Ezekiel’s message would have created a very different horizon for the exiles. Maybe they thought that they were exiled because of their enemies or because of their shame and guilt. But here, Ezekiel is reframing their experience. For those who would listen there is the message of hope – that love is the reason for their exile, a concern for their safety, that God’s glory remains with them, and that that glory will give them fresh heart which will lead to their return.

“Those [the exiles] of whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said ‘They have gone far from the Lord; to us this land is given for a possession.’ Say to them: Thus says the Lord God: Though I removed them [the exiles] far away mong the nations, ad though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a little while in the countries where they have gone. Therefore say [to the exiles]: Thus says the Lord God: I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered … I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them.”

Ezekiel 11

I wonder how many exiles see God as the cause of their exile, and how many see the glory of God travelling with them. Certainly xenophobic communities don’t see exiled refugees in that light as they tighten their borders against them. But let’s imagine what happens when, in the words of Warsan Shire’s poem Home, “home is the mouth of a shark”, when home is a place that is too dangerous, too dangerous to be called home, when home is no place for our gods, when they become god forsaken. The God of Exodus never settles – always ready to move in with us and move out with us. Have we got the theological imagination of Ezekiel to imagine God leading the abused, the tortured from one place of extreme danger to places of sanctuary? Have we got the imagination to see the light of God’s love in our coastal waters guiding exiles to safe havens?

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
Warsan Shire

According to Ezekiel’s ecstatic imagination the diaspora is God’s doing. It is his dislocation and dispersal. This dispersal is reenacted in our liturgy. At God’s word we go, “in peace to love and serve the world”. We are scattered far and wide like seed. We are made exiles because, in other imaginations of scripture, we are in the world but not of the world (John 17:6), sheep amongst wolves (Matthew 10:16), living in cities while calling another city home (Hebrews 11:10), praying for a kingdom like nothing on earth (Matthew 6:9-13).

Here’s Jamila Lyiscott reading Warsan Shire’s Home.

Love never stops

This is a reflection on words from Isaiah 44: I am the first and I am the last.

As well as the first
I am the last I am
the last the victim
forgotten I am
the last is my name
my first word
the lasting word
beaming hope
for the last at last
everlasting love

This was written for the Twitter hashtag #cLectio – a hashtag used by some for reflecting on the first reading of Morning Prayer

Post Sansomite

Reflections using the hashtag cLectio are reflections posted primarily to Twitter with the necessary limitations of that platform. I am copying the posts here as an experiment. The posts are reflections on the Old Testament reading for the day. Today’s reading from Judges 17 is post-Sansom and rather pre-Trump (other populist leaders are readily available).

What is to become of this country
if the governing principle is
we don’t want to be rule takers
but rule makers and breakers,
if the leaders are unruly
and people are left to please themselves
and if the priests are also domesticated?
It sounds so careless. #Judges17 #cLectio

Laban and Jacob have their say on the folly of borders and their control

A cairn marking the boundary between Norway and Sweden in a remote area of the Arctic. Photo by Bjorn Christian Torrissen

The UK Government has announced plans to take “full control” of borders unveiling an Australian-style points system to overhaul immigration law and close our borders to unskilled workers and those who can’t speak English. When we talk about taking “full control of our borders” aren’t we just allowing fear and anxiety to take control of our borders? Are we forgetting border controls escalate and will be reciprocated? Have we given any thought to who in the end will wipe our bums?

This is all part of the deceit of government. I have been intrigued by the stories about Jacob and Laban from Genesis 29-31. Jacob is the “leg-puller”, the “supplanter”, the “deceiver”. Laban is the “white man”. Laban means white. The story of Laban and Jacob is a saga of deception – the white man deceiving the deceiver. Was Jacob the outsmarter of the two?) They come to terms with each other by building a witness heap of stones laid by their families as a commitment to peace. It marked the first bilingual place name recorded in the Bible – Laban called it Jegar Sahadutha and Jacob called it Galeed – the translations of “witness heap” in their respective languages.

Galeed, (we would perhaps call it a cairn) stood as a landmarked prayer. It provided a boundary to their hostility, an end to it. Significantly both Jacob and Laban refuse to take control of their new border. Instead they pray: “The Lord watch between you and me”. The Lord is the one they want to control their border and to watch their limits so that they never cross for harm but only cross for peace.

I wonder when we pray, when we put or hands together, whether we are building a cairn – a knuckle-boned physical structure to mark the limits of our hostility and anxiety, to say “beyond this only peace, beyond this only love”. Are our churches also cairn like landscaped prayers – places to confess our hostility, to find better ways to deal with our differences and markers within our communities beyond which we commit to “go in peace”? “This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not go past this heap to your side to harm you and that you will not go past this heap and pillar to my side to harm me.” (Genesis 31:51f)

Borders are worse for our control when our export is fear. The boundaries of our Brexit mindset become brickset – walls built against others deconstructing differences, obstructing relationships, restricting trade and exchange.

Where are we building our witness heaps and our places of commitment? How are we replacing walls with cairns? How do we lament our nationalism?

#cLectio – David’s counter culture

52029310_10218201991904229_4334449603207233536_nWho counts counts? Counts count numbers,‬
‪overpower them, reducing them, demeaning them‬
‪making them number, dumber, cannon fodder,‬
‪forced labour, numbers & counters who don’t count,
won’t count.‬ Beware those who count
counter to those God counts dear.

#1Chronicles21 #cLectio #morningprayer

A reflection for Twitter on 1 Chronicles 21 – the set reading for Morning Prayer today.

Ox-faced Luke: a poem for St Luke’s Day

44231259_10217343419320451_8457308505865453568_nOx-faced Luke,
his gospel yoked
to that load bearing
beast of burden
ploughing on
through life’s muddied field

Ox-bowed Luke,
his gospel bulging
muscle of sacrifice
for the lost, the poor
and stranger still
their inheritance of earth

 

Luke, author of the third gospel, is often symbolised by a winged ox, one of the “four living creatures” of Ezekiel 1 (and Revelation 4). The ox represents domesticated animals. Symbols for the other evangelists are: (m)an(gel) for Matthew, lion for Mark and eagle for John.

 

I need to go to Specksavers

My poetweet this morning responds to a reading of Genesis 3

It’s also the serpent
that opens the eyes of the blind.
And when they saw they sewed,
dressing their nakedness,
hiding their very selves
behind blinds of honesty
from one another,
from God, forever,
till another one with love
opens the eyes of the blind.

Since the dawn of time we have been wanting to help one another to see. “Now, can you see?”, we ask. “Why can’t you see?”, we accuse. I am really grateful for those who have opened my own eyes, for those who have coloured my life with love, those who have helped me to be more open and more confident. I am not so grateful for those who have been more serpentine, those who have insinuated shame into my life.

How can I help others to see? What if I am not careful in the way that I am? What if all I did was bring shame and destroy self-confidence? What if I am serpent like in my feedback and suggestion? What if all I achieved was to force people back into their shell? What if I poisoned their view of the world and themselves?

The serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ So when the woman saw [through the eyes of the serpent] that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight for the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. Genesis 3

How can I help others to see unless someone with love opens my eyes? Until then, I am a blind guide, even blind to the damage I do to the eyes of others.

First Steps

The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn
which shines brighter and brighter until full day.
Proverbs 4:18

Who knows where first steps lead?
We feel our way through death’s vale,
beyond the pale to dark corners,
blind alleys, a way hardly taken,
through dark nights of the soul.
This is the path of the righteous,
the path of Missio Dei,
the path of light to dawn.