Thursday, September 03, 2009
Judith and Esther
Are Judith and Esther not only typologies of Mary, but perhaps of Mary and Martha as well?
As I study for my Mariology class, I am reading again about Judith and Esther and their roles in history, their valor as women of God, and their very differing individual roles.
As we read the Old Testament, we can't read it one-dimensionally but must see how it is revealed in the New Testament. Although the Bible is one story of salvation as a whole, it is one with untold depths. As we read through history and see how the words of the prophets addressed the people of that age, they also pointed to a Messaiah of the future, and a Woman who would bring him and their entire salvation about.
All of Heaven Held its breath.....
It is said that all of Heaven held their breath as they awaited Mary's fiat, and so it was, as we go back into history and consider the roles of Judith and Esther, who stood as full representatives of their people, standing in the place of Israel; of Daughter Zion.
In the book of Judith, she was recognized as a holy woman, a woman of importance, and so they allowed her to approach the enemy as she and they prayed. In her action involving great prayer and sacrifice, she was able to carry out the action that freed the Israelites from oppression and redeemed them from the enemy. It was God who did the real work, but at her very hands at the behest of the prayer of her and her people.
In the book of Esther, we see how Esther was set aside to save her people in her three days of prayer and contemplation, of suffering and sacrifice. There, in her very humility and weakness, her people were saved as she interceeded for them and continued to do so until they were established in their rightful place.
Both women are seen as types of Mary, just as Isaac and Joseph are seen as types of Jesus in the Old Testament. The New Testament doesn't reveal anything so new, but only brings to fulfillment what has always been true and will continue to be true for all the ages.
Mary and Martha?
I have continued pondering these historical women and suddenly I saw the parallel between these pairs of women in both the Old and New Testaments; they really aren't so different.
In our modern age Mary and Martha have been juxtaposed as examples of the active and contemplative lives of women religious; it seems Judith and Esther can be as well.
In the case of Martha, we see Judith, both women focused on the action to be taken, and action accomplished. Mary and Esther, though, are focused on the need for prayer and contemplation, no matter what the task at hand. While the New Testament women weren't dealing with outright violence, it was because the Sacrificial Lamb was in their very presence, taking that need for violence out of their tender hands so that it could rest in His own, leaving the essence of their respective Calls to be discerned and lived out in a way more ordered than that of their predecessors.
My Own Discernment
I don't think it's any mistake that I was drawn to read deeply of Judith and Esther this summer as I approached the lives of Mary and Martha in that common "translation" of their lives in relation to Christ.
I have had to question myself; what draws me to each woman, how do I identify with her, and what puts me off? What does this reveal about God, about Jesus, about Mary...and about me?
What does this have to do with my own Vocation?
Is Jesus calling me to one of these, each a life of prayer and sacrifice, or something else?
Does it say something that I am more drawn to Esther than I am to Judith, in spite of the expectation I had in starting out that Judith seemed more in line with my own thinking and experience?
So Many Questions
There are those who want me to "Make a decision and just DO IT!"
I know that there are a few of you holding such a position and I gather that from comments, emails, personal conversations, and just the general tone of comments people love to make both with regard to what I've written over the last few years and comments made on the blogs or articles of other men and women in discernment.
We live in a culture of immediate gratification, and if someone is not decisive on the spot, we are tempted to want to push them along according to our own whims, all on their behalf of course!
If there is one thing I learned this summer it was to listen to God and trust in HIS timing. Not mine. Not yours. Not anyone's.
Had I "made a decision" before this summer, it wouldn't have been a good experience. That's why it didn't happen. If I was FORCING a decision now, I know it wouldn't end well.
My last retreat, my visit with the Cistercians, brought God's own words home to me very clearly:
"Wait for Me."
This is where I find the common translation of Mary and Martha to be lacking, and where I fail to see a dichotomy between Judith and Esther.
It is not a rebuking of action vs. contemplation, or this woman's style vs. that woman's style.
In true Catholic understanding, I see both/and...and more.
At my retreat, I brought everything to Jesus, pouring myself out to him, without emotion, but in complete purity, bare before him. I had no devotions to hide behind. As I knelt in that sparse chapel, before the altar the tabernacle, and the red-lit candle, it was me alone, naked in my solitude and honesty.
God was as honest with me as I was with Him. I said I wasn't ready.
I was there BECAUSE I wasn't ready. The healthy don't need a physician.
Judith and Esther didn't act on their own accord. Although they reacted to the need of their people and to those who called for help, they did not leap to a conclusion and "make a decision."
They prayed. They waited.
Judith let Holofernes fall into his own sin after her three days of prayer and fasting before she took the action she was there to take.
Esther's uncle Mordacai was clear in why he thought she was there, and AFTER her three days of prayer and fasting, she, too, took action in a totally different form.
God was a part of that. God DROVE that decision. God was WITHIN that decision and it was HE who delivered His people, for He is present in His annointed.
In Genesis, God created the world in six days, but on the seventh, He rested.
We do not know the length of those days, and we know that the length of the days of prayer for Judith and Esther correspond to the days of Christ's Passion and Resurrection.
Yet that time is symbolic for us today, too. We must all pass through a time of purification, a time of death, a time of resurrection, even here on this earth. Perhaps we pass through this kind of conversion many times, maybe in small ways, maybe in large ones. Maybe it takes three days of a TEC retreat, or maybe it's three years or ten years of hard living, serious suffering, and a breakthrough in a 20-year Confession and learning to live again through the Sacramental life of the Church.
The Saints write of two major conversions, yet I write here of something smaller, something unnnoticed to anyone but to God, for we, and all the Saints, know that there are many steps to holiness, both big and small. Dramatic or inane, they are all the same to God.
The small moments pass without notice to anyone but to us and to God; for God sees how we put our greatest effort into the smallest things, and the smallest, most unnoticeable things are those that make the greatest difference later on.
Right now, I am Judith, praying and fasting, asking her people in turn to pray and fast before she goes into the camp of the enemy. I am Esther, face-down in my chamber, prostrate before the Lord, begging for help, revealing my solitude and my dependence upon Him, for I have no one else but Him.
And in this prayer, God is asking me to wait. I'm not ready.
It is not I who says so, but God, and I can do nothing but obey.
I struggle between the worlds of active and contemplative, trying to figure out not only what God wants, but what I want, for this IS an important question.
Only in prayer can it be resolved, and only in prayer can action be discerned. Not on my time, but God's.
He has a plan. I await that plan.
It doesn't have to make sense to me, for right now, NONE of this does.
It certainly doesn't make sense to YOU nor should it, for you are not privy to our private conversations, just as you are not privy to how Judith and Esther each made their own decisions; those facts are hidden. What they heard from God; hidden.
So it remains that part of my life is hidden from you, as it should be, for my discernment doesn't belong to you, but rather, to me and to My Lord who calls me to this state of earthly limbo.
I do not mean, through this, to compare myself in any way to these great Holy Women, for I cannot compare, but only use their stories to explain yet another facet of Mary, of the Church, and of all those discerning God's will in their lives, and certainly in mine. They have much to teach ALL of us.
For now I reach out for their hands, ask for their intercession, realizing that our battles are the same, although on a different spiritual plane.
The mystery of any Vocation is that it comes from Christ alone, and only He and the soul being addressed truly understand the depths that must be plumbed, the mountains to be climbed, and the plains to be crossed in order to respond and fulfill that call.
Judith and Esther both knew that clarion sound that echoed in their souls; I await my own action, clothed in sackcloth, armed with a sword, ready to release all and surrender to the golden scepter when I am brought into countenance of the Lion of Judah, the Lamb of God, both in one....my King.