June 2024

The following is a possible framework for the Witnessing of the Word. It can be personalised or altered: its purpose is to serve as an example of how this Saying might be used primarily in the context of a Prayer Group, but it may be used by individuals too. It is not intended to be definitive.  In the context of a group: the periods of silence should be appropriate for your group - probably not less than 5 minutes, or more than 15 minutes.

Saying for the month: ‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live’ Ezekiel 37.5 (RSV)

To begin the exercise, first spend a short while in relaxation and preparing to be still; you may want to relax your way through your muscles or you may find it helpful to become aware of the sounds around you and then put them aside as you offer this time of prayer to God.

Say this introductory invitation to prayer, then keep a further minute or two of silence:  ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11.28)

Introduction to the first silence - a preparation for listening with the mind:

‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live’.

Ezekiel was hundreds of miles from home, in exile in the dry deserts of Babylon.  He was physically a long way from Jerusalem, which was both his real home and his spiritual home.  It was there that God called Ezekiel to be a prophet.

This is the second of his visions that Ezekiel records.  One of my Bishops over the years of my ministry was John B. Taylor, an Old Testament scholar.  He preached a sermon in which he suggested that this second vision may well have been given to Ezekiel at the very spot where he received his call to be a prophet in the first place. 

It was perhaps a fold in the hills, a shallow valley, where he used to go for quiet and for prayer.  For Ezekiel this would have been a special place, sacred to him, a place where he could remember ‘Jerusalem’ and all that it meant to him.  It was a place he could go for some inner refreshment so that he could wrestle with the problems that he faced, and the problems of his people in exile.

It is here in this special place that God gives him a vision.  Ezekiel looks out over the valley.  It is a dry wilderness of a place, and instead of the rocks and stones and boulders, he sees that the place is strewn with bones, like the wreckage of a battlefield – nothing but dry bones.  All life has gone

God asks: Can these bones live?  Ezekiel answers, bewildered.  It is an answer that is no answer.  He says, in verse 3: ‘Lord you alone know’.  Then God says ‘I will put my Spirit in you and you will live’ or ‘I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live’. 

In the vision that Ezekiel has, the impossible begins to happen.  There is a rattling sound as the bones come together - they are covered with flesh – but they are not yet alive.  It takes the breath of the Spirit – the ‘ruach’ of God (that wonderful Hebrew word).  It is the same breath that caused Adam to come alive at the beginning of time.  We might paraphrase this as: ‘I will put my breath in you and you shall live’.

Ezekiel’s job as a prophet is to bring life into stubborn, backward-looking hearts that then made up the people of Israel.  Ezekiel has enormous faith in the power of God.  In the last few verses of the previous chapter, he describes the new life that people can have at God’s hands, who says to Ezekiel: ‘I will cleanse you, I will give you a new heart, I will save you … ’.

In your imagination, put yourself in the shoes of Ezekiel as he goes to this sacred spot for prayer and is then given this astonishing vision of the dry, desiccated, bones of an old battlefield.  Sense the thrill as God’s words begin to bring the bones to life:

‘I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live’.

Let us enter the first silence for a while as we listen to the words of God as they were heard by Ezekiel for the first time.

We take this Saying into our minds, allowing the saying to speak to us: ‘I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live’.

A time is now kept for silence of the mind – perhaps between 5 and 15 minutes.  The silence concludes with a short thanksgiving, and/or feel free to repeat the Saying.

The first silence ends with the words: Father, we thank you for the gift of your Word.

Introduction to the second silence - a preparation for listening with the heart:

‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live’.

The bones are very dead and very dry.  All life is gone from them.  At our worst moments, that is not a bad description of ourselves.  There are times in our own lives when we sense that we are in despair and times are hopeless – we almost feel that we are cut off from meaning in our lives.   At times we are spiritually very dead and very dry.

The same may be said sometimes of our local Church – and the Church at large.  There are great pressures on the Churches: financial, theological, pastoral, evangelistic.  There is often a feeling of low esteem.  We can be very critical too.  The press don’t help, promising us that there will be no more Church at all by such and such a date.  At times the bones seem very dead and very dry.  In these extraordinary times, many may be feeling like this.  They may feel that there is a sense of hopelessness in the air, with no end in sight to the problems that we, our Church, our countries and our world, are facing.

All the time, I have to recall that the source of simply everything lies in God himself.  He is the source of my faith, my life, my prayer, my courage, my hope – and of all the inner resources that we need to continue.

So, we open ourselves in this second silence.  We start empty, like a great container that is dry.  The well is dry.  Deep down within ourselves, we sense a great need, a deep longing.  We begin to realise that we are in touch with the very ground of our being, the source that is deep within us and the very heart of everything.

We listen and we hear him speaking to us: ‘I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live’.  It is through that breath, the ‘ruach’, the Spirit that we become aware that we belong to the resurrection community.  There is new life, where all has seemed dead.

As your listening deepens, you may like to recall the words of Hildegarde of Bingen.  Hildegarde was one of the most remarkable and creative personalities of the Middle Ages. Born in 1098, she became a nun and was a visionary, a naturalist, a playwright, a poet and a musician, as well as Abbess of her community.  We could spend a lot of time with her – but we will dwell for a moment just on one thing that she wrote:

‘Listen, there was once a King sitting on the throne.  Around him stood great and wonderfully beautiful columns ornamented with ivory, bearing the banners of the king with great honour … Then it pleased the king to raise a small feather from the ground and he commanded it to fly.  The feather flew, not because of anything in itself, but because the air bore it along.  Thus am I … a feather on the breath of God’.

As we listen, the words slip away and we become weightless, ready to fly like that feather, borne along on the air because the king commands it … a feather on the breath of God.

It can be like that as we live in the resurrection community and in the community that has looked to the great gift of the Spirit of God.

Now we take this word into our hearts, as we allow Jesus’ words to speak in us, to let it touch us and let it work more deeply upon our lives.

A time is now kept for silence of the heart – perhaps between 5 and 15 minutes.

The second silence ends with the words: Father, we thank you that your Word is alive and within us.

Introduction to the time of intercession – taking God’s word outwards into the world.

‘Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live’.

Say the name of a person or a group of people, and after a short pause, repeat the saying. For example:

‘Alison and your family …  "i will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live”’.

As we allow the word to speak through us we might direct Jesus’ word towards those people and situations where there is suffering, hurt and an absence of joy and where abiding in Christ would bring comfort.  Conclude this time of intercession with words of thanksgiving: Father, we thank you that your Word has gone out through us to those for whom we pray.

The Conclusion

Feel free to use the Fellowship Prayer (below) or another closing prayer to conclude your time of contemplative prayer:

Loving Heavenly Father, we thank you for all your unsearchable riches which pour forth from you as light from the sun, in boundless profusion and generosity, whether received, ignored or rejected. And now we offer to you, in so far as we are able, as an emptiness to be filled with your divine fullness, ourselves, our souls and bodies; all that we are, all that we have and all that we do. Amen

You may wish to say the Grace together before departing.