top of page


Updated: May 15

James Weldon Johnson (1871–1938) J. Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954)

Receiving the Holy Spirit. by Emil Nolde

Ezekiel connected dem dry bones,    

Ezekiel connected dem dry bones,    

Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones,  

Now hear the word of the Lord.

Dem bones Dem bones Dem dry bones

Dem bones Dem bones Dem dry bones

Dem bones Dem bones Dem dry bones,

Hear the word of the Lord.

R/Toe bone connected to the foot bone

Foot bone connected to the heel bone

Heel bone connected to the ankle bone

Ankle bone connected to the leg bone

Leg bone connected to the knee bone

Knee bone connected to the thigh bone

Thigh bone connected to the hip bone

Hip bone connected to the back bone

Back bone connected to the shoulder bone

Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone

Neck bone connected to the head bone

Hear the word of the Lord.

R/Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.

Now hear the word of the Lord!



While this spiritual may seem more fun than pious, it is exactly the story of the Spirit. Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones in the desert (Ez. 37) describes how the Lord creates life out of dead bones in the valley. A great lesson for the day.


Without the Spirit we are all like those dry bones. God breathed into Adam and he became a living being. Christ breathed into the disciples and the church was born. He breathes into us when we are born and when we are born again in baptism. Without his breath, we are simply like dry bones and inert corpses. Anyone who has stood at the side of someone dying can mark that moment when the breath becomes different and suddenly gone. Then the body of the beloved is different. It is hardly recognizable as the beloved because the breath is gone.

John the Baptist

From John the Baptist’s cry as he is about to baptize Jesus, we know that Jesus brings the Spirit with him, and to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is how and when he imparts his Spirit to us. Anyone reading the Book of Acts, which is the account of how the Spirit breathes life into the apostles as they breathe it into others, will see how the Spirit enlivens and quickens everything so much that very simple men and women become powerful witnesses to another kind of kingdom and king. It allows the fisherman Peter to stand up against the treachery of Herod who plans to execute him. It gives Paul the courage to travel throughout the ancient world changing the lives of millions with his proclamation of the word as it has given courage to thousands of missionaries and faithful Christians. Where they go they bring the Spirit and it changes things


Wherever the Word of the Lord is, the Spirit is also there. It is why we simple people can, by our speech change lives. Not because we have the power, but because the words that we speak, if they are of Jesus, contain the Spirit who will do the work in the hearts of our listeners.


Reading Scripture to someone in pain or need can be like a balm on their beings, body and soul; praying with them like an arbor of calm and joy, even when the prayers are frantic. Going to the Lord in prayer is going to the power of the fire in the tongues of the disciples that first Pentecost and hearing a rushing wind blasting out the dead air and raising up the dry bones in our being. Come Holy Spirit, come!



James Weldon Johnson

The brothers James Weldon Johnson and his brother Rosamond Johnson are credited with writing this spiritual. They also collaborated on the hymn “Lift every Voice and Sing,” and "God’s Trombones." This has been sung by many groups, secular to sacred. I remember Augsburg Quartets coming to our congregations in the summer and singing it to our great delight. Enjoy the versions below!



Delta Rhythm Boys


Cathedral Quartet


Calvary Bible School Choir


Lam Woo Music


The King’s Heralds


61 views0 comments


bottom of page