There’s a story told in the Hebrew Scriptures about the prophet Ezekiel. He has a vision. It’s a valley filled with dry bones. He hears God’s voice ask him, “…can these bones live?” Ezekiel speaks directly to the bones what he hears God say: “I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life…”
And they do. They come together, bone by bone. Tendons and flesh appear. Skin covers them. But no breath.
He prophecies again, saying: “Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.”
And they do. Breath enters them and “they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.”
God then tells Ezekiel that these bones represent a people who are dried up with all hope gone. Ezekiel speaks one more time, telling the bones (and the people themselves) that God will bring them back to hope, back to life, back to faith.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes tells the story of the Bone Woman or La Loba.
She creeps and crawls and sifts through the montanas, mountains, and arroyos, dry riverbeds, looking for wolf bones, and when she has assembled the entire skeleton, where the last bone is in place and the beautiful white scupture of the creature is laid out before her, she sits by the fire and thinks about what song she will sing…This is when the rib bones and leg bones of the wolf begin to flesh out and the creature becomes furred. La Loba sings some more, and more of the creature comes into being…And La Loba sings more and the wolf creature begins to breathe. And still La Loba sings so deeply that the floor of the desert shakes, and as she sings the wolf opens its eyes, leaps up, and runs away down the canyon.
Somewhere in its running, whether by the speed of its running, or by splashing its way into a river, or by way of a ray of sunlight or moonlight hitting it right in the side, the wolf is suddently transformed into a laughing woman who runs free toward the horizon.
The similarities between these stories is staggering; their differences poignant.
- In both, dry bones exist, seemingly discarded, forgotten, and scattered. They represent people – disjointed, broken, unglued, falling apart.
- In both, a voice is what calls them back together and invites reconnection, gathering, uniting.
- In both, breath enters and life returns.
- In Ezekiel’s story it is God’s voice communicated by the prophet. In Estes’ story, an old woman communicates directly.
- In Ezekiel’s story it is a command that calls the bones together. In Estes’ story, a song.
- In Ezekiel’s story, the bones connect and become a vast army. In Estes’ story, a wolf…and then a wild woman.
Though distinct in and of themselves, their shared texture, meaning, and imagery stun me. But for all that, it still remains easier to argue their differences than embrace their overlap. Dissonance almost always wins, or at least dichotomy, especially as it relates to religion, spirituality, and the interwoven complexities of gender. Though far too simplistic, here are some of the dichotomies in which we get stuck – not dancing, but with leaden feet, weighed down, clumsy:
- Either we place weight and credibility on stories from scripture or we lean toward the archetypes of women.
- Either we live in the stories and doctrine informed by traditional faith or we walk away, into the woods, in search of new meaning informed by the stories, lore, myth, and archetype.
- Either we are Christian or we are Feminist.
- Either we are conservative or we are liberal.
- Either we worship God or self.
Do you hear the silence? All singing has stopped. Do you feel how these constrict and strain? How they nearly suck the breath right out of you? Do you feel how, with very little pressure, they would snap – just like brittle, dry bones? No wonder the prophet speaks and La Loba sings. We are in desperate need.
These two stories – Ezekiel’s and Estes’ – invite us to sing over the bones – to invite expansiveness, deep breaths, and life. They invite us to stories that inform and enhance one another, enabling huge and vast armies of prophets and wild women both to rise up, carried by the wind, and filled with the breath of the divine. And they call us to unity, rejoining, and unexpected dance partners – within ourselves and with one another.
Ezekiel and Estes are hardly who we’d expect to find each other across a crowded dance floor, nor bones and wolves, or for many of us, even God and the wild woman. But dance they do.
I have written this post for myself, though I did not realize such until just now. These last sentences, so clearly mine…the dissonance that whimsically dances in my head and sings the song of my deepest heart.
Step away from what holds you back and toward what frightens you most. Be prophet and La Loba; vast army and wild woman. And maybe, just maybe, allow the doctrine, story and imagery bound in the faith of your fathers to dance with the Sacred Feminine and the lore of your mothers’. You will be beautiful, fluid, “a laughing woman who runs free…”