The Book of Esther may be a completely invented melodrama, yet under the buffoonery we find a deeply human challenge.
The heart of the story — both physically and emotionally — comes at the moment that Mordecai asks Esther to approach the king and plead on behalf of the Jewish people. Esther hesitates. As queen, she lives a life of luxury. She is safe from Haman’s persecution since her Jewish identity is not known. Surely the easier and safer path is to say nothing, to do nothing. She gives Mordecai an excuse: the king hasn’t called for me in a month, and if I approach him unbidden, he may kill me!
This is Mordecai’s response to Esther: “Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king’s palace. For if you remain silent in this crisis, then relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another place; but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have come to this royal position for just such a crisis?”
Mordecai’s question is the key. He is asking her to put aside her life of safety and luxury. He is reminding her that her life has a unique purpose that she can either embrace with courage, or ignore.
Esther chooses courage, even in the face of her own possible death.
Most of us are not faced with such a life-or-death choice, yet every day we are called to live with courage. In some sense we need courage just to get up in the morning and listen to the news of floods, famine, war, economic turmoil, all types of suffering. Closer to home, some of us wonder how best to care for an aging parent. We worry about a dear friend or relative who is ill, or our children who are struggling. And then, of course, we have our private fears: the diminishments that come with aging, the worrisome pain that doesn’t go away, the bad habits we can’t break, the secrets that weigh us down.
When we are in the midst of our struggles and worries and fears, we could lose sight of this great opportunity called Life. Perhaps our courage falters. So from where might we find courage; how can we live with kindness, generosity, joy and optimism?
The psalmist says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death — the valley of deepest darkness — I will not fear, for You are with me.”
What is it that is “with” us? What do we lean on? To what do we turn as we find the courage to embrace life, even when …? Even if …?
Some of us turn to God, the traditional source of strength for the Jewish people for thousands of years. Others turn to the strength that comes from living an ethical and moral life. Still others turn to the love of dear ones.
Each of us must ask: what is “with” me, giving me strength and courage when I am in the valley of deepest darkness? The answer to this is, for each of us, at the heart of the life of the spirit.