by Katie Delp
Katie Delp, our Executive Director, recently preached on Esther’s response to Haman and what it can teach us. This is Part 2 in a series of exploring Esther’s rooted response. You can read Part 1 here.
For the the past two decades, I’ve been working in marginalized communities. I’ve been in hard places and befriended those who haven’t always had a voice. In the day-to-day of community organizing and working for change and transformation, I’ve come up again some “Hamans.” They may be people in power or perhaps those just causing trouble.
I am learning to recognize how standing up to the Hamans in our world must be very different for Christ followers. The way we stand up to injustice is what differentiates us. Thankfully, Esther offers us a road map for a Godly response. For starters, hers is a response rooted in relationship with God.
When Mordecai informs Esther of Haman’s plan, her immediate reaction is “There’s nothing I can do! It’s against the law for me to speak to the King!” Esther is quick to diminish her role and her voice. She is quick to explain how helping is impossible.
But when Mordecai returns and reminds her of her connection to the Jewish people and her position of influence, she begins to respond differently. This is the point in the story where Esther understands she has to act, but she doesn’t know what that will look like. Instead of rushing to response, she gives herself some time by asking Mordecai, the rest of the Jews, and her household to fast with her for three days while she prays and asks God for wisdom and courage.
I think in my mind, I always visualized Mordecai challenging Esther for “such a time as this” and her swiftly realizing her call and immediately stepping up bravely to the challenge and making her demands to the king in her best Wonder Woman pose. But that’s not what happened. Esther agreed to to the challenge, but immediately responded with “give me the three days” to allow herself time to prepare and connect with God.
Our culture is so quick to respond to every conflict. Within hours of every controversy, we are bombarded with opinions from every form of media. We are expected to draw lines, form an opinion, and announce our stance even while the story is still breaking. It’s can be unbelievably exhausting...and ineffective.
“Contemplative activism” is a practice I’ve been drawn to in the past. It marries the practices of spiritual contemplative disciplines with our call for social justice and advocacy. In Sojourner Magazine, David Potter describes it this way, “Emotion-laden responses are useful in building bridges from apathy to action. Yet, as countless fatigued and burnt-out activists struggle in the wake of moral outrage, we must go deeper.
We need a discipline of contemplative activism.
In recognizing the challenges of working for social justice, spiritually-rooted social action provides something of substance to the people in movements. From this place of rootedness, social movements can set intentions that point towards sustainability.”
Reading this article, I immediately thought that Esther is the perfect example of contemplative activism in her response to Haman. She demonstrates our need for a practice and a discipline that is not so quick to react with raw emotion that we join into the problem that already exists.
More and more I believe that as followers of Christ, we need to follow Esther’s example. We must be committed to standing up to the powers that be and the evil in our world, but we must first gather ourselves and connect with God.
Phileena Heuertz, a leader in contemplative activism, says, “Through activism we confront toxicity in our world; through contemplation we confront it in ourselves. Without practices that dismantle our unconscious ego motivations, at best our work will be limited in its effectiveness and at worse, our work will exercise more violence in the world.”
This slowing down isn’t just about making a better plan for taking down the Hamans in our worlds. This slowing down gives us the space to find where we, too, are a part of the problem and to remove our own biases. We give ourselves space to examine the ourselves, confess our sin, and hear from God. I believe this is a wise practice. Even my kids’ soccer league asks parents to wait 24 hours before they complain about a referee or a coaching problem! They know that allowing the emotions of the game to simmer changes how everyone will respond.
I’ve been trying to practice this discipline as well. I’ve experienced how my own quick response to an emerging situation backfired and created an avoidable mess. I owned my role in the mess and apologized. But as I reflected on the situation, I realized I acted too quickly and responded from a place of emotion.
So I’m working on being like Esther. I’m trying to take my time, to pause more. Give myself some space to wrestle with God about my emotions and role within the conflict before speaking out or acting. I appreciate Esther’s example in this.