Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22—Psalm 124—James 5:13-20—Mark 9:38-50
Our help is in the Name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 24:8)
This past week I’ve been reflecting on the practice of listening deeply. I was with my daughter yesterday at the Minnesota Youth Symphony and was struck by the deep listening required by me to hear the various parts of the complicated music her orchestra is practicing—how the first violins and second violins talked with one another, and how the bass kept time with a deep and soothing undertone, and how the brass with its bold voice sometimes spoke out of turn to make its musical point.
My deep listening allowed me to put the pieces together and create a beautiful story of not only the music but of each musician and all the background they brought to the rehearsal, and of the conductor demanding the best of everyone. It took imaginative deep listening to create the whole story of the music.
We, as Christians sitting here today, are equally complicated—we are made up of many myriad pieces and stories that when put together create the symphony of who we are in God’s image, and who we are as a people of God.
We are created in the image of God. Seeing that image of God in each other, requires deep listening to really know the complicated parts that make up the symphony of our God image. If we are willing to listen, we will know God in each other. But we must engage in the courageous act of truly listening…listening deeply.
For this reason, I love the OT reading of Esther today—it requires imaginative deep listening, on my part, to put together the multifaceted aspects of the story in order to create a whole story of courage and choosing life.
I adore the book of Esther…she is one of my favorite characters in Scripture. Esther is a hero, and a prophetic witness for women, for the oppressed, and for all the marginalized. Esther’s prophetic voice lives on in all those courageous enough to speak out on behalf of those in need.
Esther is one of the five scrolls know as the Meglliot, which are read from at the Jewish holidays; Esther is read at Purim, a feast of food and gifts that celebrates the saving of the Jews from extermination at the hands of King Ahasuerus’adviser, Hamen.
If you aren’t familiar with the story, it is worth reading and consulting some commentaries, as it full of hyperbole and therefore fun to read; and it is the story of a strong woman actively speaking out and participating in preserving the lives of her people, the Israelites.
As the story proceeds, we learn that Esther is chosen for the king’s harem because of her beauty. This Scriptural theme of the conquest and abuse of women is explored and still studied for a reason—it seems, unfortunately to be a timeless theme. The conquest of women by powerful men is something that is definitely and unfortunately still alive and present in our culture, as can be seen in current events.
And, fortunately, despite the possibility of not being heard, women are choosing to speak up and demanding that their stories are listened to deeply. And it is only in this deep listening that we create the symphony of who we are in God’s image, and who we are as a people of God.
I once heard a religious scholar say, “If debate is to be truly civil, we must be willing to see the good in the one whom we deeply disagree. God is this good that we see in the other.
Speaking out is a complicated and multifaceted process often rife with fear, shame, anger, and hopefully, eventually, liberation from the oppression of silence. Speaking out is a terrifying act of courage, one that every survivor of abuse knows. Esther, likely knew this terror when she spoke to save her life and the life of her Jewish brothers and sisters.
In Esther’s story, we find a complicated process of choosing to speak out, which, perhaps, we can use to guide our understanding of why and how women today choose to speak out.
At first Esther is silent. In the beginning of the story, she is advised to conceal her identity as a Jewish woman and she heeds this advice. She knows that speaking out may cause her extreme harm, even death. By the end of the story, she realizes that her silence is harming others and harming herself.
As any survivor of abuse knows, speaking out may be met with denial, anger, refusal to believe, and possibly death threats. And yet, despite this terror, women still follow in the footsteps of Esther and choose to speak.
When we don’t speak out, as Esther learns, we deny others the opportunity to listen deeply to our stories and to see the image of God in our inmost being.
However, this is only half of the equation, as Esther teaches us, for anything to shift and change, there needs to be a person or community willing to commit to listening deeply. Listening deeply to the voice of women who choose to speak against oppression and abuse.
Listening deeply…This is a practice that may be equally as difficult as speaking out. Listening deeply may cause us pain, or may trigger in us experiences we would rather forget.
And, we are created in the image of God. To see that image of God in each other, it requires the courage to speak out and the courage to listen deeply to the other. Only then can we piece together the complicated aspects of who we are in God’s image. Only then can we truly know God in one another. Only then will we be for each other an example of God’s steadfast and ever present love and compassion.
In closing…My friend and colleague, Susan Moss, is fond of saying, “Name what is in the room.”
In the spirit of naming what is in the room, this is my last Sunday at St. John’s and I leave with extreme gratitude and joy for the ways in which you have shepherded me through my time as Transition Deacon, supported me through Ordination, and witnessed my transition to Priest. Not only have you supported me, you have listened deeply to me as I’ve learned to grow into the role of Priest. I am grateful!