Can These Bones Live?

Painting Hope in the Midst of Tragedy


June 12th, 5:45 am EDT: Mass shooting in Orlando night club.

My alarm rang in tandem with the BBC news update.


Sighing with a mix of fatigue and desperation, I felt ashamedly numb to the "news" that hardly feels like anything new. I set my phone and emotions aside, hurrying to prepare for my work later that morning at Pleasant Hill Presbyterian.

I was visiting PHPC to live paint in worship and lead an intergenerational art workshop immediately after. The text for the morning was Ezekiel 37, the fantastical and horrifying vision of a valley of bones that dance to life. Dry bones. Dry, dry bones.

With the start of worship, I began the painting, offering a visual of the dry, gaping valley opening before us, encompassing our gaze.

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ezekiel 37, dry bones, can these bones live, sanctified art, lisle gwynn garrity art, valley or death art
Dead bones don’t bother me.  Unburied bones bother me.  This valley was filled with unburied bones, still lying around, haunting and disturbing. Never spoken of, named, dealt with, or put away, but lying there, poisoning and infecting the entire scene.
—Rev. Dave Fry

As Rev. Dave Fry preached, I painted.

We didn't yet know all the details of the tragedy; we didn't yet know the fullness of despair.

We didn't yet know the multitude of unburied bones that filled the floors of the night club we'd soon learn to call "The Pulse." We didn't yet know how our nation's dry bones of homophobia and gun-gripped terror had poisoned and infected us, leading to the deadliest massacre yet.

After worship, we filled into the fellowship hall as people of all ages crowded around tables covered with black canvas.

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Gripping clay and pastels, we joined Ezekiel in the valley, willing to discover what visions and visuals might arise.
After reading the following poem, I guided the groups in moving around their canvases to fill them with color and imagery.

Reflections on Ezekiel 37:1-14

May this heart
of dry cracked earth,
this soul,
a valley of dry bones

strewn in heaps,

feel Your breath.

May this breath live within me
as a quenching rain
with power to raise shattered frames,
assemble order from disorder,
and connect the disconnected.
Fill my flesh, muscle and sinew
with a divine promise manifest
in motion and direction.

May Your rain not be fleeting,
Nor I content with the fragile flowers
of the first bloom.
They are nothing but a thin wisp of color
atop this wretched floor.

Turning skyward with anticipation,
may I receive your word to create
a new climate, clean and flowering.
Moved by Your Spirit.
Your Wind.
Your Breath.

-Patrick Temple 10/26/2014

We didn't yet know the fullness of your despair.

We didn't yet know that 100 of you were either injured or killed in those early morning hours.

And yet, 80 of us crowded together in anxious curiosity for what could become of these black canvases, these dark valleys of despair we were to fill with light.

We didn't yet know the fullness of your grief.

We didn't yet know that the beat of your dancing hearts was shot still with bullets and sirens.

And yet, we huddled together in solidarity, our silence dappled with children's whispers and the soft pat-pat-pat's of the pastels.

We didn't yet know the fullness of your devastation.

We didn't yet know that paramedics and police, blood donors and family members were flooding your blood-filled valley of death.

And yet, shoulders bumping shoulders, we reached across tables and neighbors to share colors and tools.

We didn't yet know the fullness of your crisis.

We didn't yet know that some of you were held hostage in bathrooms and under tables, clutching cell phones like life lines to say goodbye to those you loved.

And yet, in the midst of our busy creative work, some of us clutched our toys for comfort and courage.

We didn't yet know the fullness of your injustice.

We didn't yet know that your gravesite wasn't just any bar, but a sacred space for you to be wild and free, to be seen and known, to be celebrated and loved. We didn't yet know that your were murdered in your own kind of "church."

And yet, we—imperfect and hopeful—gathered around one table and one canvas to practice belonging for all.

We didn't yet know the fullness of your tragedy.

We didn't yet know that, in the breaking of the dawn, you were smothered with darkness.

And yet, together, we illuminated our dark canvases with bold color and light.

We didn't yet know the fullness of your hopelessness. And yet, we painted hope.

We did it for ourselves. We did it for the world. We did it for you.

June 12th, 12:00pm EDT: 50 dead and 53 injured in mass shooting at Orlando gay bar.


This time, with worship and the workshop over, I sighed with the heavy weight of building sadness.

My early-morning numbness, like a nightgown wrapped tight, began to loosen and slip away.

I returned to the now empty sanctuary to finish my painting, to return to the dry, empty valley. That dry, dry valley.

With every stroke becoming a desperate, breathless prayer, I painted the vision increasingly void in our world growing louder with grief.

No darkness. No bones. No dry earth. No death.

The valley soon bloomed with lush emerald. The sky danced with swirling light.

Painting is often my greatest form of protest. Painting creates possibility in the midst of impossible grief.

Sometimes painting is the only way to re-imagine the world as it should be.

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For all victims of the Orlando shooting, we cry with you, we ache for you, we honor the light within you.