by Leila Ortiz—
Throughout the years, my faith walk has been a journey with Queen Esther. Even now I sit, pray and wonder: “What does it mean to be called for such a time as this?” Today I come to this question in a daunting season—a time of global pandemic, systemic racism, civil unrest, socio-political divides, hardship and uncertainty at every turn. Yet as I ponder, I can confirm: We are called for such as time as this. And yes, this time is holy.
As a teen growing up in Puerto Rico, my youth group experienced holy time during many retreats at the Lutheran Camp in Dorado. One outdoor ministry retreat was memorable, not because of what happened during the retreat, but because of what happened after.
After that particular retreat, I went to take a nap at my best friend Yessy’s house. She fell asleep before I did. I had laid down, but I hadn’t yet drifted off, when all of a sudden, Yessy began to pray in her sleep.
She was praying and talking to Jesus about her retreat experience. She mentioned someone named “Esther.” As I listened, Yessy complained about how she always got the short end of the stick, while Esther was the nena linda (“goody-goody” or spoiled girl).
I was intrigued. There was no Esther in our youth group. Later I told Yessy what I had heard while she slept. I asked: “Who is Esther?” She was surprised by my question. She answered: “That’s what Jesus and I call you.” She added: “Read the book of Esther and you’ll understand why.”
So that very evening, I read the book of Esther in its entirety. I was fascinated by the story of this young woman and her capacity to lead through the impossible. Not only does she lead, but she does so with grace, conviction and confidence. She is wise beyond her years—savvy, strategic and ever faithful. She is called by God. And because God has called her, she is able to lead, even while at the mercy of systemic oppression.
Queen Esther is called “for such a time as this”—a time that is difficult and uncertain. She lives at a time when the purpose of daily living is to survive and co-create space for life itself, always knowing that death is just one word, one act or one ego away. This is daunting…excruciating… and undoubtedly holy time. Holy time in which she discovers that she is brave and courageous, in which she recognizes herself as an agent of justice and liberation for herself and for her people. Holy time despite and because of the realities she navigates.
In the more than 20 years since those moments with Yessy, I’ve learned that when stories speak to us, they speak to the part of us that is in need. They resonate in the places where they hit home in our hearts. They give us language for when our soul’s yearning is at a loss for words. Sometimes a story stays with us, even after the need to which it first spoke is met, ready to resurface when a similar need arises.
Queen Esther’s story is such a story for me. As a teenager, I did not see myself in Esther, but God knew I needed to hear that I am capable of leading in difficult and uncertain times. Just as I needed the notion then, I often need the reminder now. I, too, have been called for such a time as this…for a time that is messy, complicated and heartbreaking…for a time that is also beautiful, enlightening and inspiring.
I think we all need this reminder: Each day we have breath in our being (no matter how hard that day may be), we have been called for such a time as this.
You, beloved, have each been called in your skin, gender, status and context. You have been called, not as Esther, not as me, but as you. You are the person God has created to live and move and have your being, in no other time but now. This time is holy simply because it holds your every living and holy breath. So here we are…called for such a time as this.
Will we give ourselves time to pray, pause and ponder what this might mean for us in our particular bodies and spaces?
Will we dare to lead and be led in ways that are messy, perplexing and authentic to who we are?
Will we live and be in ways that are fierce, brave and courageous for the sake of life itself?
I pray Queen Esther’s story journeys with us on our faith walks as a reminder that we have the capacity to lead in ways that are liberating and life-giving.
I pray we will boldly declare that we have been called “for such a time as this” every single day of our lives. I pray we discover and realize that we and this time are unapologetically holy.
And I pray we declare and live into this truth confidently, trusting in the One who calls us.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
The Rev. Leila M. Ortiz is a pastor and theologian who serves as bishop of the Metropolitan Washington D.C. Synod of the ELCA.
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