Monday, August 10, 2009
O Lord I Am All Alone and Have No One But Thee
Over the last several weeks, two Biblical women have dominated my scriptural musings, and my most recent retreat gave me time to really sit and consider them.
Between Judith and Esther, although I started out liking Judith the best, it's Esther that has won my heart and has taught me the most. Of the two, her story is more Christological and truly...more human.
It's not that I don't love and respect Judith! After all, how could one hate a woman who connived so convincingly and let a man get drunk on her account, knowing all the while that he was thinking nasty thoughts about what he was going to do to her in bed? With her virtue intact, she cut off his head and delivered it personally to her city, while Holofernes's own people thought he lay drunk...for about a day and a half or so. (Apparently he was that much of a lush, or they would have expected his presence earlier.)
So yes, I do love Judith. But in reading her story a few times, it doesn't quite sit right with me. I think she had some of her own flaws to address, and I'd rather not name them here as her story came to an end a long, long time ago and I'd rather focus on virtue.
That's why I love Esther.
Esther didn't ask to be where she was and didn't WANT to be there. She was orphaned, taken in by her devoted uncle, Mordacai, who was established at the palace gate for most of the story. Esther was Jewish woman whose people were oppressed as they usually were throughout the Old Testament, she had great beauty and this is what opened the doors of the palace to her. She ended up in the King's harem. (Yes, I said a lot in that paragraph and I'm purposefully not specific as I intend that YOU read the book for YOURSELF!)
Yet, because Queen Vashti refused to obey the King, Esther, when brought before him, was very pleasing and so he made HER the Queen after her predecessor was, uh...exterminated.
Queen Esther did nothing to warrant the grace of her position, and in fact, she didn't want it. It was her uncle, Mordecai, who pointed out to her at the opportune time, that perhaps she was placed there for a reason: to save her people.
There was a law in the kingdom that only those who were invited could approach the King, and he had to extend the golden scepter towards them before they were allowed to speak.
Queen Esther had not been summoned by the King, but after the wise words of her uncle, she stripped herself of the adornments of her station, laid on the ground and for three days, sheand her maids fasted and prayed to God, begging for mercy for her people and for the right words to say should she be allowed to speak.
Her prayer is so touching, so human, that we who are single women, no doubt, have uttered these heartfelt words of our own accord, not even knowing the story:
"Help me, who am all alone and have no one but Thee, O Lord..."
Esther, on the third day, went in to the King, and upon seeing his countenance, "flushed with splendor", she and her maids all collapsed in fear. It is here, as Esther laid in a swoon, that the King's heart was softened.
Rather than ordering their death, he rushed to her side, took her into his arms and tried to comfort her. She awoke, explained how the effect of his grace had affected her, and again lost consciousness, much to his chagrin.
It was here that the King extended his golden scepter, touching her neck, giving her permission to make her petetion. She invited him and his evil minion, Haman, to a banquet, where, on the second night, she revealed Haman's vile plan. Having won the heart of the King, Esther saved her people and won for them a place of honor in the kingdom.
Each time I read this part of Sacred Scripture, each time I consider it, I learn something new; so much it cannot be contained in one post, maybe not in volumes! I see the history of the Isrealites, the allegory of our own Judeo-Christian history, and the Christology revealed in a scheme of redemption that comes about at the hands of a woman. I see Mary, I see Jesus. I see God the Father, first unapproachable for He cannot be seen, and then, after Esther and Mordecai enter the palace, he becomes...more human. Visible. Approachable.
Yet, He maintained His Kingship, for decorum continued to be followed; Esther never began brazen in her requests, but continued with an attitude of humility each and every time she petetioned the King: "If I have found favor in thy sight and if this be pleasing to thee and if you value this..."
What struck me the most, though, was the necessity of weakness. Esther didn't gain the respect and trust of the King by marching in and making demands for her people or for herslf; had she done so, there would have been no story. She would have been beheaded or hanged.
Esther opened the heart of the King through her weakness. After her three days of prayer and fasting, is it any surprise that she fell in terror at the feet of the King? It wasn't just the weakness belonging to the condition of femininity, but the spiritual and physical weakness of her own three days of fasting and prayer.
In approaching the King, Esther was fully the woman she was intended to be, in all of her weakness. She had nothing left of herself; only God. In fainting in the presence of the King, she was able to open the door to reveal her true identity, and there, He entered in, took her into his own heart so that she was alone no longer, and her people, no longer abandoned to slavery.
Esther is a perfect example for each and every one of us. Heaven was not opened to us through our strength and talents, merit or knowledge, but through our weakness. Through our sin.
We cannot enter the presence of the King without His permission, unless he extends the golden scepter towards us; we see in this gesture the wood and the blood shed on the Cross.
Jesus did not die for us because we are already Saints, but because we cannot overcome the sin that enslaves us. It is our weakness that has opened the heart of God.
We enter the Sacred Heart of Jesus through His terrible wounds, which He extends towards us, offering them to us to touch, to taste, to know. We reach out to Him and enter into His own Body through His bleeding wounds, knowing His human weakness for it was through the weakness of His own humanity that allows us to approach and participate in His Divinity.
Conversely, it is through our own wounds that He enters into US! We cannot approach God without humility and without that heartfelt prayer of Esther, recognizing who we are, who He is, and our own lack of merit. The only appropriate way to enter into the presence of Our Lord is to fall at His feet, and in so doing, we reveal who we really are.
When we lay helpless, that is when He acts in His great compassion, picking us up, comforting us in our distress, and asking us for our petetions.
Over and over again, scripture tells us that "The Lord is close to the broken-hearted". Indeed. He cannot be otherwise, for it is our broken hearts that draw Him and allow Him to come near. If our hearts were not broken, we would not allow His approach, but it is in our deepest need, our greatest agony that we cry out in the darkness, "ABBA!"
We do not have to be Queen Esther to echo her own words, for when she spoke, she spoke for all of humanity in every age in all of history:
"Help me O Lord for I am all alone and I have no one but you."