On retreat with the Bishop and priests of the Diocese at beautiful Lake Junaluska, immersed in natural beauty in all its autumnal glory, this would not seem to be the right setting for anxiety of any kind. On the other hand, perhaps, perhaps the contrast makes the anxieties of life appear that much more stark. After all, didn't our retreat master himself begin by reminding us that we bring our demons with us on retreat?
Coincidentally - or providentially - the scripture reading in today's Office is Esther 14:1-9, the famous "Prayer of Queen Esther," when, after hearing her Uncle Mordecai's news about the impending thereat to the survival of the Jewish People, Queen Esther, seized with mortal anguish, had recourse to the Lord. To highlight the seriousness of the crisis, the text tells us she took off her splendid garments (she was a queen, after all) and put on garments of distress and mourning. That's a nice nostalgic reminder that there once was a time - until quite recently in fact - when people dressed appropriately for the occasion, before the current tyranny of casual dress overwhelmed everything, driving yet one more nail in the coffin of civilized living.
Esther's prayer is desperate, for the situation in which the Jews found themselves thanks to Haman's genocidal ambitions, was indeed a desperate one. It is also poignantly universal, expressing the sensibility of everyone who has ever felt threatened, alone, and abandoned.
"My Lord, our King, you alone are God. Help me, who am alone and have no one to help but you, for I am taking my life in my hand. ... O God, more powerful than all, hear the voice of those in despair. Save us from the power of the wicked, and deliver me from my fear."
Esther's prayer is one which could be prayed by anyone is serious angst about any impending evil - personal and private or political and public. The threat immediately facing the Jewish People was, of course, a political one. Hence the significance of Esther calling God Israel's King - presumably in contrast to the merely earthly sovereign whose royal rank she shared. But, while Esther seems to speak somewhat disdainfully of her royal (but Gentile) husband in her prayer, she is also well aware that it is her royal position which may be the means for her people's salvation. As her Uncle Mordecai himself had told her: "Who knows but that it was for a time like this that you obtained the royal dignity?"
The story of Esther reminds us that life is always dangerous, that threats abound on all sides, that feeling endangered and threatened, alone and abandoned, may be the just person's natural state in this vale of tears. But it teaches - and that is after all the point of the story - that God's providential care for his people is infinite and manifests itself in surprising ways. And it teaches us not to disdain the natural, human opportunity's social and political life affords us to benefit from God's providence in the here and now.