Scripture: Esther chapter 4
I believe in prayer. Not because it works like magic, but because it connects me to God. The labyrinth of prayer is full of mystery not to confound us but to entice us to deepen our relationship with God. From one perspective the story of Esther is a story about prayer.
(Constantin Brancusi, Prayer, 1907)
Esther is famous for outward beauty and celebrated for her strength of character and inner self possession. Every year, the Jewish community observe the feast of Purim where Esther is celebrated and Haman is chastised. People dress up, give gifts, read the story of Esther together and remember how the Hebrew people were saved through the courage of a young woman.
In rethinking the Esther story I realize that although Esther was shocked by Haman’s plan, it was Mordedai who urged her to use her position to intercede for the Hebrew people. This caused me to think about how I feel when there is pressure put on me to participate in something someone else thinks is important. My reflex is to align responsibly. I’m sensitive to the expectations of others. I would have been sensitive to Mordecai’s expectations. Esther has some of these reactions too — she felt the pressure of Mordecai’s outrage and expectation of her.
Esther was unnerved by Mordecai’s report about Haman’s plot, but understood the danger of going before the King uninvited. She felt Mordecai’s expectations and the impossibility of the situation. This however is where we can see the strength of Esther’s inner character. Instead of rashly rushing off to see the King, or avoiding Mordecai with passive aggressive games, Esther chooses to slow her own racing thoughts and fears down by calling the nation to prayer and fasting.
What is it about prayer that is stabilizing and fortifying? Esther was well aware that the outcome of this situation could go either way. “If I perish, I perish,” were her own words. We aren’t told what Esther prayed for, but we know she emerged from prayer, focused, poised and resolute. Mordecai had told her what to do, but prayer taught her she was the woman to do it. Micah 6:8 gives the pattern for alignment and action: do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. The ‘what’ we are supposed to do is often clear, but the obstacle of fear can be confusing and often immobilizing. The habit of prayer takes the erratic energy produced by fear, or confusion, or grief and grounds it in God, who can once again channel that energy and therefore us back into action.
So is it all about outcomes? Say a prayer = see something happen. I don’t think so, at least I’m certain that evaluation of this kind is more misinforming than informing. The ways of God are mysterious, but we can be self reflective about how we see ourselves cooperating with God in the world. Am I acting justly, showing mercy and walking humbly with God or am I immobilized in my fear and confusion? As room is made for prayer, we can experience, as Esther did, the satisfaction of participating with God as He works in the world.
” And when the King saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she won favor in his sight, and he held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand.
Lord Jesus, as we turn toward Christmas, turn our hearts toward you. Amen
(Peter Paul Rubens, Esther before Ahasverus, 1606.)