Two songs chart my youthful spirituality, and both of them have to do with time. I remember warm California nights being “wowed” by the Chambers Brothers, “The Time Has Come Today” (1967) and then reflecting on Chicago’s question, “Does Anyone Know What Time It Is? Does Anybody Care?” (1970) Life is all about time, and the spaces that shape the times in which we live. Time is, as Einstein and process theologians assert, relative, contextual, dynamic, uneven in meaning, and alive with possibility. This brings us to Mordecai’s question of Esther and God’s question to us:
For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this. (NRSV)
Or, as Eugene Peterson’s The Message states:
If you persist in staying silent at a time like this, help and deliverance will arrive for the Jews from someplace else; but you and your family will be wiped out. Who knows? Maybe you were made queen for just such a time as this.
That’s one of the key questions of theology and spirituality, “What time is it? What events call you to pray and act? Where is God calling you at this time?” Or in the words of poet, Mary Oliver, “What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Ruth is awakened from passivity by Mordecai’s question. She realizes that she can no longer “pass” as a Gentile. She must come out of the closet and take action to save her people. Although the name of God is not explicitly mentioned in the original Jewish text of the Book of Esther, I believe that Esther is among the most God-filled and relevant books in scripture, not because of its drinking parties and threats of violence, but because of its affirmation of a quiet, usually unobtrusive providence, that calls us to respond in times of crisis. Esther is post-modern in spirit: we don’t expect a voice from the heavens, a clear divine mandate, or God to solve the problems we’ve created or deliver us from evil. We see ourselves as the ones who must be, as Gandhi says, the change we’ve been waiting for. This isn’t because God is absent, dead, or separate from the world, but because God’s power is contextual, pervasive, invitational, and shaped by our actions and priorities in a dynamic call and response.
Esther’s call for just such a time as this mirrors the wisdom of process theology. Quietly and contextually, God presents us moment by moment a vision of possibility, ideals to shape our actions and ruminations. God acts in the real world presenting real possibilities for real people in terms of their realistic situations, personally, institutionally, nationally, and globally. God asks in each moment, “What time is it? What is your vocation for just such a time as this?”
“This time” is, for me, sitting in my great room, writing but, in the back of my mind, preparing for Sunday services and interacting with my wife Kate. “This time,” for me, is the micro world of writing, teaching, and pastoring, and also my regular care for my grandchildren. “This time,” for me, is what I hear in the local and national/international media: opioid addiction on Cape Cod where I live; children without adequate school supplies even within our relatively affluent community; a rise in racist, sexist, homophobic, and isolationist rhetoric, fueled by the irresponsible statements of political candidates; and rising sea waters, storms, and droughts, as a result of global climate change in part due to human actions. And, so I ask myself as a pastor, grandparent, process theologian, and citizen, “What time is it? What is my calling for just such a time as this?”
If I trust the wisdom of the Book of Esther and process theology, I am already receiving wisdom to guide my responses, most likely coming in quiet ways such as intuitions, hunches, encounters, books, and the media. The wisdom may be vague and open-ended. Like Esther, I need to pause and listen – to make myself listen rather than being tranquilized by the trivial or confused by the chaotic – and then take one step at a time in response. God is still speaking, as the United Church of Christ slogan proclaims. God is asking me, “What time is it and what will you do about it?” and leaving the answer to me and my companions as we seek our role in healing the Earth. (For more on these themes, see Bruce Epperly, Ruth and Esther: Women of Agency and Adventure and Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God, both books published by Energion.)