At a recent virtual program on anti-racism hosted by Cranaleith Spiritual Center, one of the four young panelists, an artist named Isaac Scott who co-designed the “Stay Golden” mural honoring the resilience of the African diaspora in Philadelphia, said something to the largely white participants about what anti-racism requires that still reverberates in me. When it comes to redemption for a people so divided and wounded by racism, Isaac recommended that we work to shift from self-preservation toward vulnerability. Self-preservation, he said, closes us off to our deepest selves and to each other. It leads to inflexibility and defensiveness. Vulnerability on the other hand softens us, opens us to different pathways forward.The shift from self-preservation to vulnerability not only runs counter to our human nature, but also to today’s readings. Queen Esther, the secretly Jewish wife of a Persian king, prepares to plead with her husband to preserve her own diasporic people from slaughter at the hands of rivals by first asking Yahweh to preserve her life as she makes that request. And in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus reminds his disciples to ask for what they need from a God who only gives “good things” to those who do so.
Yet there is vulnerability even in these texts about self-preservation. Both indicate that if we wish to preserve ourselves we must also risk caring deeply about others’ well-being and then act accordingly. Esther literally put her body on the line—prostrate on the ground before Yahweh and then face to face with the king—to advocate for her people. Jesus instructs us to knock on the door while also abiding by the “golden rule”: we must risk opening doors to others in order to have our own deepest needs met.
- Where in your life are you Esther, whether at risk because of who you are, or what you hope to preserve, or your proximity to power?
- How can you relate to someone else today in a way that demonstrates communal preservation through vulnerability?
Maureen H. O’Connell, Ph.D. is associate professor of religion and theology at La Salle University in Philadelphia.