God asked the prophet Ezekiel to perform symbolic actions — actions that would reveal to the Israelites who they were, and where they were headed. It’s worth thinking about them this week, as we read from Ezekiel.
God told Ezekiel to pack his bags, dig a hole in the city wall and set out under cover of darkness. He was letting Israel know that the Exile was coming. God told Ezekiel that he would lose “the delight of this eyes;” that night his wife died. He was letting the Israelites know that Jerusalem, their beloved city, was about to be destroyed. God told Ezekiel to prophesy over the valley of dry bones and bring them back to life. He was letting Israel know that there would be a restoration after the Exile.
It makes me wonder: what are the symbolic actions of our times?
The viewing of pornography seems to be one of them. Building a wall at the border seems to be another. An FBI agent and members of Congress shouting at one another seems to be one of them. Like Ezekiel’s actions, these give us a snapshot of who we are and where we’re going as a country. We see them, and ask ourselves: Is that who we really want to be?
But we experience positive symbolic actions, too.
One person stands at the ambo as a lector, and somehow that seems just right — proclaiming the Word of God is symbolic of his or her whole life. Another person organizes a fundraiser for the food pantry, but lets others have the joy of handing out the food. Somehow that perfectly captures who he or she is. Someone holds the door open, lets another driver into traffic, stays late at work to help a colleague, and so on.
These positive actions are part of the character of our country, too, and they deserve to occupy more of our attention. I’m grateful that the St. Louis Review regularly holds up these symbols of goodness for our contemplation.
Sometimes we let the secular media focus our attention on the negative symbols. And our natural reaction to the negative is frustration and outrage. We can live our whole lives in that cycle of negativity, frustration and outrage. But do we want to?
Alternatively, we can try to focus on the positive, to which our natural reaction is joy and generosity. But, of course, we can’t choose only to see the positive. The world is an interplay of light and darkness, and we have to address both. So, what can we do?
Here’s an exercise that might help. Think of an action that’s symbolic of you at your best. Present it to God, for His praise. (Thank you, God, for making me a person who’s capable of this!) Think of an action that’s symbolic of you at your worst. Present it to God, for His mercy. (I’m sorry, God, that I’m the kind of person who’s capable of this!)
Presenting our whole life to God — the good for his praise, the bad for his mercy — maybe that’s the kind of symbolic action our country needs right now.