Avoiding Repetition

October 2, 2012

Excerpt from Esther 5:1-14

"Tomorrow morning you can ask the king to have Mordecai hanged…and then you can go to the banquet happy."  (Good News Bible)

Reflection by William C. Green

What we put down or brush off often comes back to haunt us in ways we don't recognize. Freud called this "the return of the repressed." Doubt and anxiety can return as their opposite: unquestioning belief. Liberals who put down fundamentalists can become as dogmatic as what they deplore and turn into liberal fundamentalists. Just so, an alcoholic who foreswears drinking can become a "dry drunk"—not high and obnoxious but dry and obnoxious.

William Faulkner wrote, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." Remembering this we can turn what we forget—or repress—into something that can help, not haunt us, and keep us from becoming versions of what we put down.

The book of Esther speaks to this. It's the central text of the Jewish holiday, Purim, when Jews remember their deliverance from a plot by the prime minister, Haman, to get rid of them. Haman's wife had told him to ask the king to have the Jewish leader, Mordecai, hanged. The courage and wit of Queen Esther turned the tables and got Haman hanged instead on the very gallows he intended for the Jews. During Purim worship, when Haman's name is referenced it is "blotted out," as instructions for the day put it, bringing on catcalls, foot stomping, and gragers (noisemakers). Purim becomes a Mardi Gras of merrymaking—just the happiness Haman had sought by blotting out the Jews.

Jewish spiritual leaders at The Shalom Center express concern about "blotting out." Putting down or trying to eliminate what's wrong can make us just as wrong and hard to handle. The repressed returns. We fail to see the Haman in ourselves and, in effect, act like Haman toward those with whom we differ, whatever we intend. Wise faith knows what to watch out for…and remember.

Prayer

Make me smart about anything I want to forget or put down, God, so I don't mindlessly repeat it. Amen.

About the Author
William C. Green is Vice-President for Strategy and Development, Moral Courage Project, NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, and the author of 52 Ways to Ignite Your Congregation: Generous Giving.

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