This week I’ve been thinking about why we do the things we do, personally and collectively. There are lots of reasons, of course, lots of motivations, many causes—seen and unseen—that contribute to us being the people we are, making the choices we make, and creating the lives we live. But there’s also something more than that—a force unseen that helps us along, that inspires us toward goodness, that cares about the people we can become, the good we can do, the world that is coming into being. I believe that with us, for us, and through us, God is unfolding a better day and we are invited to both witness and be part of that unfolding.
It’s true that with things the way they are in our world right now, it may feel hard to hold on to that hopeful thought. The headlines we see are typically bad news: Deceit, corruption, greed, and prejudice seem to be everywhere—the heartbreaking and maddening stories jam our airwaves and fill our social media feeds. But I’ve noticed there’s a vast difference between what’s “out there” and what I experience as I go about my normal day. The people I meet are honest, friendly, welcoming, and kind. We make each other laugh. We talk about good things. We let the person with the fewest items go first in the checkout line. We hold the door for others or say “thanks” when someone holds it for us. Being kind isn’t hard, for those of us who aren’t social media influencers or political office holders. It’s not a performance to be kind, to be in the right spot doing the right thing for the right reasons. It’s a gift. It’s a blessing. It’s the Light of God, shining into the world, through us.
Last Sunday after meeting for worship Julia and Sherry and I were enjoying Joe’s birthday cake in the Fellowship room and talking about how God inspires people to help one another in some pretty remarkable ways. I mentioned that I’d seen a video showing a busy intersection in a Florida town where a driver had had a sudden medical event and lost consciousness while her car was still moving. A young woman jumped out of her own car and ran out into the street, waving cars away and trying to stop the moving car with her own body. Soon six or seven other people joined her and they were physically trying to stop the car, getting in front of it and alongside it. Once it was stopped, someone used an exercise barbell to break a rear window and open the passenger door. A nurse called 911, and soon the medics arrived and took the woman to the hospital. Who knows how many accidents—and maybe tragedies—were averted that day? All because the young woman happened to look over and in a split second see the woman’s condition. Coincidence? Perhaps so, the way Albert Einstein defined it: “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”
Julia told us about an experience she had when she was volunteering for a community gardening organization. Her colleague had leaned down to help a second grader with something in the garden, and she stood up perhaps a bit too fast, felt dizzy, and lost her balance. She started to fall backward toward a pile of rocks. Julia was standing there and almost without thinking she turned at the perfect moment to put out her arms and catch her friend, probably saving her from a bad fall. Right place, right time. Another anonymous miracle, a grace in action, when a force for good acts through us, almost before we realize it. It’s our care for one another, showing up in the world.
It makes you wonder, doesn’t it? How might it change the way we look at our lives if we understood that God means for us to share His Light with one another in a very real and practical way? We could trust God to put us in the right place at the right time. We’d feel free to share our souls with each other. We could relax knowing that we have all we need to be part of the healing of our world. We’d believe we are contributing something worthwhile and that our world will heal. Whether our part is big or small, seen or unseen, a call to prayer or a call to action, God will show us where we’re needed. Our part is to simply let God’s Light shine and help it along when we can. Or at least, not hinder it.
Our Old Testament reading today is from a great Bible story. I love Esther—she had a rough start in life, as a poor, orphan girl who was taken in and cared for by her older cousin Mordecai. She grew into a lovely and faithful young woman, humble in heart. When the call went out that the king was looking for a new wife, the young women of the area prepared to meet the king. Esther was among the young women selected for the time of preparation, and Mordecai advised her not to tell anyone she was a Jew. They were among those who had remained in Persia after the time of exile, and the Jews were considered immigrants and often mistreated. But you may remember the story—the Light of Esther’s good heart was evident to the king, who fell in love with her immediately and made her his queen. At the part of the story we heard today, Mordecai has discovered that a wicked servant of the king has designed a terrible plot to murder all the Jewish people in the realm. He wants Esther to go to the king and intervene on their behalf.
But Esther has never told the king she was a Jew, and what’s more, there was a rule in the kingdom that those who go to the king without being summoned would be put to death, unless the king showed them mercy. She was understandably afraid for her life. But Mordecai, even though he loved her dearly, needed her to understand the bigger picture. He sent back this blunt answer:
“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
That is such an important idea—one at the center of our faith and practice, at the heart of the Great Commission, central to the living out of all our Quaker testimonies: Who knows but that God has brought each of us to this time in our lives—with our unique experiences and interests and challenges and gifts—for such a time as this?
That idea changed everything for Esther. She replied immediately, telling Mordecai,
“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”
Can’t you imagine Esther’s face in that moment, calm, resolute, determined? The fear of the young Jewish girl had left her, and her expression showed the dignity and grace of a queen. And as you know, this is the turning point in the story. Esther chose to act—not for herself but for her people—and the king was merciful, the plot was exposed, and the people behind it punished and removed from positions of power. Esther’s choice was important—pivotal—in bringing Truth to Light and restoring justice and harmony and peace.
None of us is likely to wind up in a Queen’s position in our lifetimes, but we each make similar choices in an average day. We have a dozen opportunities each day to tell the truth or something less. We have uncountable chances to be kind, to show mercy, to be forgiving, to extend grace, to refrain from judgment, to give someone the benefit of the doubt. We can always choose—no matter what the circumstance–to see and value, welcome and appreciate “that of God” in everyone around us. If we follow Esther’s simple example of doing what’s right not simply for ourselves, but for one another, we would live the Gospel every day.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he spells out in blunt terms what veils the shining of God’s Light in us. He warns first against “unwholesome talk,” saying that we should speak only what is helpful for building others up. Think of all the types of speech that would rule out! No gossip. No criticizing. No judging. No complaining. There goes most of social media and just about every news report. What if all our communication was about encouraging one another, being helpful, showing how much we care, spotlighting the good things people do? The story we tell would be about hope and not about despair. Our energy and ideas would be uplifting, not destructive. We would see an amazingly different world, brought about by that singular change of attitude and closer attention to our words.
Paul tells us to uproot “all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” And he says to plant instead the seeds of love: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Anytime we make those choices in an ordinary day—being kind and not bitter, choosing compassion over anger, forgiving a trespass, offering grace—God’s Light shines through us in that precise moment. Make no mistake about it—it is not a little thing. It means we’re in tune right then with God’s hope for us, and that Love has put us in the right place at the right time to be the help someone needs. We might be the face of kindness to one who sorely needs it. We might catch with hope a soul who was falling toward despair. When we offer the presence of peace to someone who is raging, we are the Good Samaritans jumping out of our cars and running to help the person who has for the moment lost touch with her heart’s truth.
Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes is a writer and a Jungian analyst, and I’d like to close with a beautiful passage from her essay, “Do Not Lose Heart, We Were Made for These Times.”
I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able vessels in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind. One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these - to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do. There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it. I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate. The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours. They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.
- OT Esther 4: 4-17
- NT Ephesians 4: 29-32
- Pinkola Estes, Dr. Clarissa. Do Not Lose Heart, We Were Made for These Times. https://www.dailygood.org/story/1538/do-not-lose-heart-we-were-made-for-these-times-clarissa-pinkola-estes/