Updated: Mar 31, 2020
- Bryan Smith
For over a year now, I have found myself being drawn into the story of Queen Esther of Persia. One day last spring, I woke up and her name was on my mind. Because her story is in the Hebrew scriptures and I am a Christian pastor, I was familiar with the story. But I sensed immediately that I was being invited to go beyond familiarity and to become an apprenticeship to this ancestor of faith.
To set her story in context, Esther was a Hebrew woman who was chosen by King Xerxes to be one of his wives. One day, Esther sees her uncle Mordecai sitting outside the gates to the palace wailing and covered in ash cloth. She soon discovers that his mourning springs from a plot being hatched by an adviser to the king to annihilate all the Jewish inhabitants in the kingdom.
Mordecai beseeches Esther to go to the king to intercede for the Jews so that their lives might be spared. At first, she resists because going uninvited to the king was punishable by death. But then Mordecai tells her, “who knows, but that you might have been put in your royal position for such a time as this.” Esther then agrees to speak to the king knowing that it could cost her life.
The story has so many rich elements to it but what has struck me in this time of pandemic is that Esther moves from a concern for self-preservation to a risky engagement to oppose a massive injustice. She uses her privilege and position to speak to power, exposing a structural evil and safeguarding marginalized people.
Esther was facing a different kind of pandemic than the one with which we’re confronted. The virus she faced was born of hatred and prejudice that fueled anti-Semitism. Faced with the choice to act or not act, she chose action.
Our pandemic also has compelled us to make important choices. On one level, there are choices we can make that help to safeguard one another’s health. We can choose to follow the wisdom of health officials and wash our hands often, use sanitizer, shelter in place, practice social distancing, and not hoard food and other supplies. Such choices will help to “flatten the curve” of Covid-19 and spare many lives.
On another level, the pandemic is exposing deep fault lines and historic inequities in our culture. Economists are telling us that the burden of the economic downturn will, as it always does, hurt the poor most profoundly. The disparities in health care access and quality are coming into full view. Prejudices are being flamed against Asian Americans as the president speaks of the “Chinese flu.” Elderly people are being seen as sacrifices that can be offered to the god of the market.
The coronavirus has made even more visible the structural injustices of our nation. And like Esther, by Providence’s decree, we are living in such a time as this and the choice we face is whether to invest our lives to help bring about the changes that will make our world more just.
Seminary of the Wild exists foundationally to facilitate the kind of leadership needed to foster the global transformation that is possible. Experiential learning that fosters the discovering, embracing, and sharing of one’s life and gifts will be vitally important in this time of unprecedented possibility.
The wild call that the earth issues in such a time as this is not to merely survive what is happening, but to say YES boldly and courageously for the transformation of our world.