by Elizabeth Hunter–
Sometimes I wish I could spend every day at the beach, with its bright sunshine, seagull cries and undulating waves. Especially when I don’t feel the sense of community I crave. Especially when God feels hidden or I’m tempted to just give in and give up.
One sunny day, at the end of a difficult summer, I drove my family to the Indiana Dunes. I’d hoped to make room for a day of fun and togetherness, looking for signs of God’s presence. Halfway there I considered turning back. Crabbiness and bickering had started to build up inside our little car, including complaints of “he’s looking at me” from the back seat. Was this togetherness? Then it began to rain, and not gently. Rain had literally not been in the forecast. But we were just 10 minutes away. The sun was still shining.
Just as we arrived, the downpour abruptly ceased. We trekked along the boardwalk to the beach, through clouds of biting flies. It had been a bitter summer. Too often I’d seen people utter casual cruelties; show disdain for people living with disabilities, homelessness or poverty; and purposefully exclude others (which is, of course, the other side of the coin whenever something is desirable and exclusive). I was wearied by news reports that showed how unsafe the world could be for young black men like my sons. I needed a break. We needed a break.
As we reached the warm sand, a rainbow appeared. It was a gift; a reminder of God’s promise of beloved community. We industriously jumped waves, dug holes, built sand castles with others and relaxed for the rest of the day. Not what I’d first envisioned, but God was present, as always.
When I first read Kay Ward’s three-part summer Bible study, “For just such a time as this” (p. 22), I was struck by the images of unity versus separation. The book of Esther takes place among Jews living in the diaspora, outside of Israel. The story’s villain, Haman, disdainfully refers to the Jewish people as “scattered and separated.” He urges the king to the ultimate act of religious intolerance: a massacre. How many times do we see this pattern today in shootings at houses of worship around the world?
Esther (meaning “hidden”; her true name, Hadassah, means “myrtle”) is the antithesis of Haman, who acts to take people apart. Esther brings her community together. She remembers God’s presence. Do you see? God is present, even in a book where God’s name isn’t even mentioned!
If you’re not looking for it, you might miss it. It’s tiny. Esther listens to the voice of God when she decides she will fast (a spiritual discipline involving prayer to God) while preparing to speak up for her people. But she won’t do it alone. She directs Mordecai to gather all the Jewish people in Susa to fast with her during this time (Esther 4:15-16). With this spiritual practice, Esther helps God’s people to make room for each other and for God’s Spirit.
For us as Christians, it’s a reminder of what Ralen Robinson calls the Pentecost promise: “Jesus says he will never leave us” (p. 32)
Elizabeth Hunter is editor of Gather.
This article is from the June 2019 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.
More like this:
by Jennifer Ginn— During a visit to a parishioner in a rehabilitation facility, I heard someone say: “That dishwasher was 50 years old when it died!” That comment was followed by others’ differing takes on the pleasures of having an automatic dishwasher. One person...
by Jane Schuchardt and Meredith Lovell Keseley— “You got this,” she whispered to me throughout the day of my beloved son’s funeral and burial. Ryan died by suicide, ending his near 20-year struggle with bipolar disorder. While our family lived in Northern Virginia,...
by Elizabeth Hunter— After the imposition of ashes, the kids and I traipse back to the pew. My youngest child stops in the aisle and whispers: “People are staring at my face. …Are people looking at my scar?” His eyes are anxious beneath the inky smudge, the barest...