By Irim Sarwar
I am writing this on Purim, the Jewish festival celebrating Queen Esther saving the Jewish people from Haman’s attempt to annihilate them. This is a day of great celebration, a day in which things are turned upside down —Haman, who had tried to destroy the Jews, unwittingly became the cause of their salvation, as Mordechai hears about his plot, convinces the Jewish people to pray, fast, and repent, as well as facilitates his cousin Esther’s rise to queen. She reveals Haman’s plot to the king, who then orders him hanged, Mordechai becomes Prime Minister, and a decree is issued, allowing the Jewish people to kill their enemies, and they go into battle.
V’nahafoch hu (turned upside down) indeed.
So…what does this have to do with Lent and this week’s readings?
Well, we start this week with nature turned upside down when Moses notices something a wee bit odd:
He saw that the bush was on fire and was not burnt
Well, that’s a bit unexpected during a normal shepherding day, even if you are on the Mountain of G-d. So he does what we would all (well, most of us, I suspect) do:
I will go and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.
Off he goes, and G-d responds with a shout echoed in homes around the world, “Stop where you are and take off your shoes…”
Adding “…this is holy ground.”
That idea of holy ground forms so much of our thinking: consecrated ground, barren ground, sacred, secular, ravaged. But what if, to quote Rachel Remen, all ground is holy ground?
If nothing else, Purim shows us G-d’s deep involvement in this world, as if He were in every atom and interstice, moving through all creation to bring it home, however long it takes. There’s a wonderful Jewish concept, tikkun olam, or repairing the world, which is a human responsibility through right action, ritual, and prayer.
What would it mean if we understood all ground —beautiful ground, broken ground, nettle and thistle covered ground, neglected ground, barren ground, and yes, toxic ground —as holy ground? And every moment as holy ground? Every sentence we type, every word we say, every interaction we have? What if we stopped looking for our vocation in the future or in a career and considered every situation, every person our vocation to allow G-d to work through us, offering love, healing, and right action, no matter how messily we step into it or how unprepared we feel for it?
What if our vocation is just allowing G-d to work through us, just as we are, to love and repair the world? Turning it upside down, what if our messiness, brokenness, and all the edges we try to smooth off make the work possible?
That doesn’t mean that we do nothing; we need to clear space for Him to work. Mordechai trusted in G-d, but he prepared the way for G-d to act by exhorting the Jewish people to prayer, fasting, and repentance first, giving Him room to turn it all upside down so it could come right.
Jesus tells us the same thing in Luke, that we need to repent and do penance; we need to turn away from that which hardens us and closes those interstices, making it more difficult for the breath of G-d to enter and oxygenate the lifeblood of the world.
Prayer, ritual, constant reorientation towards love and all that flows from it through right action, repentance and reparation when we’ve got it wrong, opens those spaces and prepares His way to turn things over and bring them right. We do it together.
I can hear Him speaking to us in the poem by Lynn Ungar that I clung to as I sobbed after the 2016 election and through the four years that followed:
Breathe, said the wind
How can I breathe at a time like this,
when the air is full of the smoke
of burning tires, burning lives?
Just breathe, the wind insisted.
Easy for you to say, if the weight of
injustice is not wrapped around your throat,
cutting off all air.
I need you to breathe.
I need you to breathe.
Don’t tell me to be calm
when there are so many reasons
to be angry, so much cause for despair!
I didn’t say to be calm, said the wind,
I said to breathe.
We’re going to need a lot of air
to make this hurricane together.