Today’s Bible reading
“This is what you must say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: As surely as I live, those living in the ruins will die by the sword, those in the open field I will give to the wild beasts for food, and those who are in the strongholds and caves will die of disease. I will turn the land into a desolate ruin; her confident pride will come to an end. The mountains of Israel will be so desolate no one will pass through them. Then they will know that I am the Lord when I turn the land into a desolate ruin because of all the abominable deeds they have committed.’
“But as for you, son of man, your people (who are talking about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses) say to one another, ‘Come hear the word that comes from the Lord.’ They come to you in crowds, and they sit in front of you as my people. They hear your words, but do not obey them. For they talk lustfully, and their heart is set on their own advantage. Realize that to them you are like a sensual song, a beautiful voice and skilled musician. They hear your words, but they do not obey them. When all this comes true—and it certainly will—then they will know that a prophet was among them.” – Ezekiel 33:27-33 (NET)
More thoughts for meditation
The dramatic and artistic book that compiles the visions and prophecies of Ezekiel begins with the young prophet coming to his thirtieth birthday (many commentators say) sitting by a ditch in his refugee camp in Babylon, to which he has been taken with other exiles. In it he sees God on a celestial throne, which should be a vision for Jerusalem, not Babylon! Over time this vision is explained as the prophet sees how God is determined to defeat what despoils creation and give his people new hearts, filled with the life of the Spirit, and to renew creation itself. Many Jews and Christians see his last vision of a restored Temple as a blueprint for an actual Temple in Jerusalem. Thus Orthodox Jews and many Evangelicals cheered when Donald Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Others see that vision as a symbolic picture of all humankind being welcomed into a new relationship of love with God and one another. Ezekiel never calls his vision Jerusalem, after all, and just described the Dead Sea, of all places, teeming with trees and wildlife after the river coming from this new temple reaches it.
While he is still in the middle of his prophecy of judgment on Israel for their idolatry and obedience in today’s reading, Ezekiel could be describing a concert, or one of our worship meetings, or us in front of the TV. “They come to you in crowds, and they sit in front of you as my people. They hear your words, but do not obey them. For they talk lustfully, and their heart is set on their own advantage. Realize that to them you are like a sensual song, a beautiful voice and skilled musician. They hear your words, but they do not obey them. When all this comes true—and it certainly will—then they will know that a prophet was among them.”
People don’t seem to “get” stuff before it happens to them – or else why would so many people rebel against the simple act of wearing a mask during a pandemic and a majority of Republican men plan to refuse vaccination? Many teachers lament how deaf students seem. And pastors and prophets should probably have “Will often be ignored” as a line of their job description. Musicians often put their soul into their music and people eat it like it is popcorn. God tells Ezekiel he is like that, a musician skilled with instruments with a beautiful voice to whom no one pays heed.
Suggestions for action
Let’s continue to pray with and for the people of the world in this changing time. Influential musicians from the pandemic era can lead us or challenge us.
Emma Ruth Rundle (37) is joined by the “sludge band” Thou on the last verse of “The Valley” to make sure we feel just how dire the situation of the song has become. The song asserted itself in the world last October, at a point when so many of us were hitting our second, maybe third pandemic wall, exhausted with the sameness of our lives and the uncertainty waiting beyond. The reviewer says it gives “a glimpse of the setting sun before the horrors of night descend.” Another reviewer noted a friend said at a Rundle concert, “I like that everything she sings sounds like a warning or a threat.”
Rundle says, “The Valley is a place. A landscape that lacks vistas and perspectives…An analogy for unrelenting, crushing mental illness…Instead of hope, we turn to anger and defiance for fuel, and with those, we fortify ourselves.” She starts with “I want to step into the armor of another, stronger/I want to look once through the eyes of someone good.” But moves into depressed thoughts that flatten the landscape, drain emotion, and leave her hopeless.
The song evokes the feeling of a defiled sanctity as Rundle sings, “Kneel now down at the face, at the gate/As every footfall crumbles so fast beneath me/Under the weight of this Eternal Shame,” and later wishes to wash away such shame with “sainthood.” In the last leg of the song, this religious imagery becomes an intentional blasphemy as the singers hold onto their fury and use it for emotional kindling.
Allow yourself a “mental health check.” Online tests can be dangerous, but might be better than nothing. It has been a depressing year. If you feel prone to anger with others or self-condemnation you are not alone. Be tender with yourself as you sit with God, the one who lavishes love on you, and examine how you are doing.
Pray for the depressed. Pray for the ill. If we are not personally impacted by the pandemic, we probably know someone who is. We know the whole world is.