#A Time for Silence….(@Sally_Rush)

The Sound of Silence

The festival of Purim primarily celebrates Esther and her saving of the Jews from extermination, but there is a place in the story where she has to hide her ethnic identity. This advice not to reveal who she is as she enters the palace harem comes from Mordecai, her guardian, who had taken her to the palace and passed her over to become part of this group of virgins competing for the King’s favour. This raises a range of questions about what she initially said when she was asked about her people and family. Did she evade the questions, give answers which were vague in detail but sufficient to not appear rude, or make up her own convenient back-story?  Did people make their own assumptions about her background and so give up asking? Did people guess what the truth might be, but decide it was easier for her and them not to pursue it?

Other Assumptions

It may have been that she was used to incorrect assumptions being made about her and her family background. Mordecai was Esther’s cousin, and he adopted her and bought her up after her parents’ death as if she were his own child. She may have been used to being taken as his blood daughter. We don’t know at what age she was adopted, the circumstances of her father’s death, the wider family situation that she found herself in when adopted, or what her feelings about her family history were.

Our  Assumptions

What assumptions do you make regarding the people you come into contact with, particularly in church? In white majority churches, we tend to focus positively on the nuclear family; that is, families made up of mum and dad and their own blood-related children. Single parents, childless couples, single people and others may get a mention, but it will be rare. The assumption we tend to make about the people we sit alongside  in church is they will be either single or in a nuclear family … but contemporary life is more complex.

The Mix

While studies indicate that congregations are predominantly populated by nuclear families, there are single people who have never been married, single people who have been divorced, single parents with care of their children, and single parents without full-time care of their children in our churches. There are also reconstituted (step) families, childless couples and ‘church singles’ who are married but come to church without their partners, as well as extended families and/or families with adopted children like Mordecai and Esther. There are also in some churches same-sex couples, who may or may not have children.

Assumption may be Easier than Curiosity

For Esther, I guess assumptions may have been easier to handle within the harem than sustained curiosity about her past. She had a past life which she had been advised at one point it was not safe to share. The more people pushed to know about her past, the more difficult it would have been for her, and it is likely feelings of both pain and anxiety would have increased in that situation. I think we need to bear Esther’s story and her need for non-disclosure in mind sometimes in churches. We often push people, particularly those who are settling into our churches, to let us know something of them and their pasts. Yet for some, it is not safe to tell because they may be escaping abuse or difficult situations in previous places. For them, quiet assumption may be much easier than sustained curiosity.

A Time for Stories to be Told

Own Photo

There came a time where Esther had to have courage and break her silence, disclosing her identity in order to help others. There may be a time when those who don’t feel safe to share their identities or past do have the courage to let others know about who they ‘really’ are or where they have come from, perhaps to raise understanding about abuse and suffering. In that situation, are we going to be ready to hear their stories, or are we going to prefer they had kept their silence because our assumptions are easier for us to handle than their truth?

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About Sally Rush

Further Education lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy. Practical Theology interests in how single parents; gender and sexuality issues relate to mission, ecclesiology and discipleship.