Can These Bones Live?

Kyle Norman
We all want a vibrant spiritual life. We want to feel the presence of God deep within. This internal connection with God’s own Spirit not only ushers us into moments of blessing and miracle, it sustains us amid the struggles of life. When we hit a wall of spiritual discouragement, or when we face an uphill battle, we feel viscerally the need to experience God’s deep and profound presence.
Of course, the messiness of life can easily dominate our senses. Sadly, there are times when we find it hard to recognise the presence of God. Like the Israelites thrust into the exile, we simply cannot see past the hardships that weigh upon us. We feel abandoned and alone. And so, we lament “Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone, we are cast off” (Ezekiel 37:11).
Have you ever felt this way?
Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones is one of the many beloved passages of scripture that speaks to God’s promise of life. Wrapped in apocalyptic imagery, the vision speaks of God’s relentless pursuit of us, and God’s loving response towards our spiritual plights. This grace-filled response begins with a simple question: Can these bones live?
What would it look like if you asked yourself this question? What if, in the places of hurt or despair, or those that tempt us toward hopelessness, we held before us this divine inquiry? Can our bones live again when we feel overwhelmed by the weight of the pandemic? Can our bones live again after walking through a time of loss? Can our communities live again after a prolonged time of no physical gathering?
The valley of dry bones, at first, is not a happy scene. The message of hopelessness is easily conveyed. Ezekiel sees a valley floor, filled with disconnected bones. What is more, these bones are described as “dry bones.” They have remained devoid of life for some time, long forgotten, long dead. If we focus here, we might assume the answer to the Lord’s question is negative: “A valley of dry, inert, exanimate bones is distinctly contrary to any notion of life,” we would say. “Of course, these bones cannot live!” Oh, how often we rush into this answer when we abide within our own discouragements.
Yet by asking the question itself, the Lord invites Ezekiel, and us, to consider another alternative. The question by the Lord presumes an answer, not based on human rationality or human effort, but on the life-giving force of God’s Spirit. Ezekiel himself picks upon this. Having been posed the question Ezekiel responds “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know” (37:3). Ezekiel acknowledges that the Spirit of God is a Spirit of life.
This changes everything.
As bone upon bone begin to rattle, we hear the blessed promise of God, “I will put my breath/Spirit in you, and you will come to life” (Ezekiel 37:6). Such life, however, does not come right away. One of the intriguing elements of Ezekiel’s vision is how the dry bones come together to form human bodies, and yet they remain inanimate, un-spirited. Ezekiel describes this plainly: “I looked, and there were tendons on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was not breath/Spirit in them” (vs.8). The bones looked alive, they looked put together, but the inward reality was anything but.
We can, at times, feel the undue burden to look alive. In today’s “image-is-everything” world, the temptation is to cultivate an image that is stalwart, serene, and unaffected. Despite the needs we feel deep inside ourselves, we mask these things under a veneer of put-togetherness. After all, is this not the reason why we respond instinctively with the word “Fine” whenever we are asked how we are? When the exterior image is everything, we find it uncomfortable to articulate the deep yearning of our soul.
Our creator, redeemer, and Lord, however, does not simply want us to look alive; God wants us to be alive! God wishes to place the Spirit of life inside us, to be the power and force behind how we live, and move, and have our being. Dry bones, as alive as they may have looked to Ezekiel, did not enter the full vitality of life until the Spirit of God dwelled within. True life relates to the Spirit within us, plain and simple. Jesus said as much, “The Spirit gives Life”, (John 6:63).
It is precisely this vibrant Spirit-filled life that Jesus offers to us all. Such a life cannot merely be about learning a list of disciplines and practices that we simply add onto our daily routines. To see it this way is to wrap our bones in an exterior façade of life. Spiritless disciplines will make us look healthy, spiritual, and religious, but they will never enliven us.
Spiritual formation, rightly understood, is about opening ourselves up to the Spirit of God. It is about inviting the Holy Spirit in, to work within us, and to animate us in a way that is consistent with God’s vision for our lives. We become formed in Christlikeness only through the work of the Holy Spirit. Thus, it is with this indwelling Spirit that we must begin.
So how do we be filled with the Holy Spirit? We ask for it. The Holy Spirit is always available to us. Thus, if we feel we need a spiritual uplift all we need to do is invite the Spirit into those places of our deepest need. You may, if you choose, pray this prayer:
Come, O Spirit of God;
make within me your dwelling place and home.
May my darkness be dispelled by your light, and my troubles calmed by your peace;
may all evil be redeemed by your love, all pain transformed through the suffering of Christ, and all dying glorified in his risen life.
Can these bones live? Absolutely.

1 Taken from the Thy Kingdom Come global initiative. See for more information.

Reverend Dr. Kyle Norman is the rector of the Anglican Parish of Holy Cross in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has a doctorate in Spiritual Formation and is often asked to write or speak on the nature of Christian community, and the role of spiritual disciplines in Christian life. His personal blog can be found at