a purposefully impious, particularly playful, Purim party – come party!
Glynn Cardy 26th Hepetema 2021
Once upon a time God walked into heaven one day and found, surprisingly, that everyone was there. Not a single soul had been sent to hell. This disturbed God, for was not God just? And what was hell created for, anyway, if the place was not going to be used?
So, God said to the Angel Gabriel. “Summon everyone before my throne and read the Ten Commandments”.
Everyone was summoned. Gabriel read the first of the Commandments. Then God said, “All those who have sinned against this commandment will betake themselves to hell immediately”. A number of persons detached themselves from the crowd and went off sadly to hell.
A similar thing was done after the second Commandment was read … and the third … and the fourth … and the fifth …. By now the population of heaven had decreased considerably. After the sixth Commandment was read, everyone had gone to hell except a recluse, old and miserable.
God looked up and said to Gabriel, “Is this the only person left in heaven? Are we the only ones left?”
“Yes”, said Gabriel.
“Well,”, said God. “It’s rather lonesome here, isn’t it? Tell them all to come back!”
When the recluse heard that everyone was coming back, he was indignant. And he yelled at God, “This is unjust! Why didn’t you tell me this before!”
And God smiled and said, “I’ve changed the rules. Welcome to the party!”
When is a curse a curse and a blessing a blessing without blurring the difference between? Or is it like two faces of god Janus, one to begin and one to end, from here to there, and then to ascend to a knowing acceptance that there is a latitude, even gratitude, that encompasses all – pain, gain, loss, cost, even enemies, and especially friends. All parties are invited to the pantomime party to party; a Purim party.
It was a curse when Queen Vashti, so the story goes, lost her life because she’d had enough of being an object and not a wife. A toy to be toyed with was not her thing, she was not to be treated as if her modesty was nothing, even if her husband was the king. He and his vain counsellors, worried about a domestic rebellion thing, had her taken, seized, her neck to wring, after all he was seemingly the divinely-given omni-important king. And she was just a woman.
It was a blessing when Esther, a foreigner in guise, a Jew to boot, ascended to the queenly prize. With coaching from Uncle Mordecai, she learnt what was at stake when the powerful Haman (a first-class rake) plotted the lives of her people to take because Uncle would not bow down, Haman’s ego to slake. So up went the gallows and the odds, and Esther never one given to God’s wee rules, now saw it her duty to embark on a risky plan, her king, ‘the man’, to scam, with all her beauty and brains, with much to lose and much to gain. And she was just a woman.
It is a curse when the modern Hamans, with their kings in tow, plot and seed fear and loathing to grow. Not only Jews, though they’ve probably had it the worst, but those of darker skin, foreign tongue, sex, gender – all have fallen to the Haman curse, that is of failing to bow down an ego to slake, and thus putting their loved ones and lives at stake. And it is not just women the Hamans hate.
It is a blessing when the modern Vashtis and Esthers stand, facing, bracing, into the turbulent winds and rebuffing the glowering of power and the urge to cower before these men of unslaked pride and deep wide need. Doing the right thing when it is the riskiest thing comes at a cost, rarely refundable, always a loss. Doing right to help those wronged, is not seen as bright but wrong, subversive of right order, that is the order of the right, their right to order, yours to obey. Courage, tenacity, a pinch of fool, is what the Vashtis and Esthers need to flout the cruel designs and egos of Haman’s brood. And it’s not just; so many people’s fate.
It is a curse when we forget the stories, be they factual fiction or fictional fact, for in the forgetting we forget that we need to act, today, right now, to right new wrongs, to sing redemption songs, to correct and protect, less we forget the harm that’s been done, doing, re-doing by the Hamans and their minions to the millions of planet Earth. Forgetting is not an option this day, remembering we weigh up what’s needed and the scales dip, it’s not a blip, it’s a call, if you still believe in it all, for truth, justice, and recall. To re-call is to re-member is to re-engage is to re-claim the beauty of all. No one is to be left behind.
It is a blessing these stories of old, in a book named after a woman, truth be told, who was not vigilant in her piety, far from it, when others would pray, she would sit, when others would recite, she would knit, for God was not in her purview. So, what is her story doing in a Bible where God is for the viewing, and prayer and piety is for the pursuing? Could it be what matters more is that courage is to the fore, and saving her people is the score, and not the earnest beliefs the faithful wore? Personal piety or acts for society? And prayer, what of prayer, words ascending the stairs to an omnipotent one? Might not prayer be the scheming, the dreaming, to bend her knee and plea for her people to be free, having tipped the odds on what the answer would be? Thus, god is an action not a distraction, prayer a transaction not a refraction. God is for doing.
In this time of curse, when I ply you with verse, interspersed with alliteration, when we are beset by Covid fears and need to reset to thwart the threats, when fiscal pain and mental strain are there and not waning, what hope does this story of heels and heroines hold?
In this time of blessing, when we can walk and talk, bake and redecorate, feed and read, and spend time alone (save for the phone), and when the birds get a break from the traffic we make, and our souls are given space, what hope does this story of heels and heroines hold?
Well, in short, with ladles of port, the hope is in the party, that all the characters so heartily, attend festooned, there’s usually balloons, and drink to the health of surviving. Haman’s there looking a little shy, the King’s there, and Mordecai. Vashti comes, wearing more than her crown. Esther is there in her exquisite gown. There’s the proud and pretentious, the cossetted and contentious, the weird and the wonderful, the feared and the fanciful, all are there – she, they, he – there is room for all, even you and me.
And this is the truth of the party, the sooth of the story, we gathered are gathered, that is it is about us being there, whether a winner or loser who cares, whether friend or enemy we share, in the pain and gain of blessing and curse, we raise a toast and remember the worst, and raise a pledge that this day that first we swear we will care and carry one and all, the big and the small, come what may. And God, thanks be, is in the toasting, the hosting, the wee, the free, you and me. All parties are invited to the pantomime party to party – it is Purim, thanks be.
[i] From Anthony De Mello, SJ