I am not a big one for digging, generally, but then I garden for what I earn so I am digging for a lot of the time. And when I am, I find things; dirt, bits of old pottery, a complete tin bath. That was a fairly recent one actually. I can’t explain why it was in the ground, but it was satisfying to unearth.
And bones. There be bones down there, and when I finds them I takes them home and put them on the bone heap that I keep near the front door. Used to anyway. My wife became increasingly less tolerant of it, especially when I brought home what she thought (and thought rightly) was clearly someone’s dearly departed dog which had been put to rest at the bottom of a garden near Baschurch, until I found them and decided that they had had rested enough. So I took them to add to my Lego collection of bones, which Anna thought was disturbing for the postman to have to see each morning.
‘Then I’ll start attaching them all together into whole new species,’ I said, which had been the idea all along.
‘Please just take the dog bits back,’ she said. ‘Do the clients even know you dug up their dog?’
‘I think it was from older owners, probably.’
‘Well, so long as you are sure.’
A moment’s pause between us.
‘I’ll take them back.’
Which I did, but in doing so I missed them. And they are not the only ones. I had already long considered digging up my first horse and reassembling him in my study. Perhaps be cheeky and pin a leg the wrong way around. Apparently, I might have had a thing for playing with old bones. And that was before Orthodoxy.
When my family left the Reformed for the Orthodox Church it had been because weeks of attending The Divine Liturgy had made it clear to us all that Orthodoxy was something that humans were just designed to do. Sure as toast is toast, and even better.
And then the learning, from the heart outwards. Some things new and some always suspected in that personal manner that we keep things close and dear, things that if spoken might be trodden as foolishness. For the former of these I did, while digging over a vegetable garden and listening to a Lord of Spirits podcast have such a realisation around the Theotokos that I had to press my fork into the soil and have a few minutes lean upon it. It was a very welcome realisation.
For the latter has been my thing about dem bones, and the things about dem that are greater than their remains. For the purposes of my time here I am amused about it, but in the personal keeping of things, on Melangall’s name day for instance, when I last venerated a piece of her remains and their contents. It was very welcome. The remains of the days; the final container of all the elements which were contained around them. Not living but remaining with life.
That is also why I have never cleaned the bit of my first horse’s bridle since his passing. It is not because I am a lazy cretin who will not clean things, although that may be true, but it is because within those mulched, saliva stained grass stains are still contained the gruel of his essence, and I like to have that around. And now more than that, through the church I have a better understanding and place for those things. Even when that sometimes means giving old bones back from time to time.
And so for a little while now, in fact pretty much since my parents became Orthodox too, my dad and I have been talking about perhaps keeping some bits of him in the family after he has passed. I want his skull, obviously, but after that I am open to offers.
And if it is my turn first, then I am happy with an absolute free-for-all, bits and pieces wise.
I sense an Ezekiel 37 moment coming…
‘Then he said to me, ‘Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.’