Dry bones, prophets, and fluttering wings

by Sharon Abercrombie

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Wings, dry bones, and prophets. Exhilaration, hunger and exhaustion. All of them were with us at the American Catholic Council in Detroit last weekend.

Since Friday night we had celebrated the messages of our modern day progressive Catholic prophets – Fr. Hans Kung, Jeanette Rodriguez, Anthony Padavano, James Carroll, Sr. Chris Schenk, Matthew Fox, and Sr. Joan Chittister -- as they encouraged each of us to acknowledge our unique gifts as baptized priestly Christians and midwife the fruits of Vatican II.

Their presence reminded me of my favorite Sufi meditation. It is one where we picture ourselves riding on camels in a long caravan behind the ancestors – Moses, Ezekiel, Jesus, Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero – as well as other spiritual teachers who might have inspired each of us along the way. And now there they are these new guides directly in front of us in this caravan of Spirit: Fr. Kung, Jeanette, Anthony, James, Sr. Chris, Matt and Sr. Joan.

At one point during the conference, we had blessed one another, laying our hands on each other’s heads in the ancient Christian gesture signifying the presence of the Holy Spirit. We had remembered the words of Ezekiel crying out to the Holy One to hear us. “Our church is filled with dried bones in a world hungering for your Life.”

At the conclusion of Sunday’s closing liturgy, we felt nourished, hopeful. All we needed now, I thought, half jestingly, were some lovely little blazing tongues of fire to send us on our way.

Then, suddenly, people began smiling and pointing. We looked up. A little bird had flown into Wayne Hall. It was circling above us. No, we had not been graced with the celebrated white dove of the Scriptures. Instead, a humble little brown bird, probably a sparrow, had come to visit. Just like Spirit, to show up in unexpected, quirky ways, I thought.

Five minutes later, as we poured out into the Cobo Hall lobby, it soon became evident why this winged one from the world had appeared. As a writer once said, “After ecstacy comes the laundry.” Suddenly, we realized just how tired and how hungry we were. It was now after 1 pm. Blood sugar was low. A large crowd had pressed up to a table looking to buy CDs and DVDs from the conference. But there weren’t enough clerks to take everyone’s money in speedy fashion. One fellow kept contradicting what another sales person had told us about where to line up.

Customers grumbled and yelled. One poor lady next to me threw up her hands. “I’ve just lost it,” she muttered. I understood. We had been on this magnificent high, but then all too quickly had been shoved back into the aggravations and misunderstandings awaiting us in the every day world.

But these major glitches will always be waiting around the corner for us, won’t they? Following along behind the fires of inspiration and hope, there are still the brick walls of resistance from the power brokers of the church and the world.

As we ride in the camel caravan in the company of our prophetic ancestors, we cannot forget that camel caravans pass through deserts. Deserts where there are dry bones as well as an oasis or two.

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