Wednesday, September 23, 2009

For Such a Time As This: Esther, Daniel, and Divine Appointments

Dear friends,

I love a good "coincidence"! My aunt called these, "I spy God at work" incidences. I especially like it when I find myself at just "the right place at the right time" -- often when I hadn't even intended to be in that place at that time. This has happened to me a lot lately, but I only have time to share about one small cluster of them right now.

As an English teacher in a home school co-op program, I love to integrate art, music, and history into my assignments -- just as I have done with my own kids at home for the past two decades. So when I was preparing lesson plans for literature units on the Biblical books of Esther and Daniel, I set out on a cyber treasure hunt for fine art related to these stories. I posted my collection on so that my students could access them easily. I picked out pieces from such notable artists at Rembrandt, Marc Chagall, and Peter Paul Rubens--who painted "Daniel in the Lion's Den"--as well as some lesser known artists. (Click on the link above to see more of the pictures, as well as the literature study guides.)

A few days before I gave out the assignments, I happened to go for my annual physical. Dr. Azelvandre was running late that morning--she confessed to being a little to chatty with her earlier patients about health care reform--but I didn't mind the extra quiet moments in the waiting room. Looking for a decent magazine to read, I pawed through a bunch of power boat magazines and finally discovered the March 2009 copy of Smithsonian Magazine. The very first article that caught my eye was Bingham's List: Saving the Jews of Nazi France. I have always been fascinated by the history of the holocaust (you can read my blog post Diary of a Mom's Day in D.C.: Holocaust Museum and Asian Art). The book of Esther is about her rescue of the Jewish nation from the plots of evil Haman, too. The article told how an American diplomat named Hiram (Harry) Bingham IV issued unauthorized visas for something like 2,500 Jews to escape Nazi Europe in the early 1940's. One of these Jews was Marc Chagall, the Russian born artist, then living in France, who 20 years later painted two pieces in my Esther art collection. Chagall once wrote, "Ever since my earliest youth I have been fascinated by the Bible. I have always believed that it is the greatest source of poetry of all time...The Bible is an echo of nature, and this I have endeavoured to transmit.... In art everything is possible, so long as it is based on love." You can find two of Chagall's Esther paintings here Ahasueras Sends Vashti Away and Esther. Because Bingham defied his superiors in order to rescue these Jews, he was demoted and eventually left the foreign service to raise his 11 kids on the family farm. At the end of the article, I was delighted to see one verse from a hymn called "Once to Every Man and Nation" that the Bingham family used to sing. I sang it in English class and taught it to my own children; I hear Micah humming it sometimes. Written in 1845 by James Lowell in protest of the U.S. war with Mexico, it's sung to the same tune as the classic version of "O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus."

Once to every man and nation,
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision,
Offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever,
'Twixt that darkness and that light.

Deep in thought, I finished reading that article and turned the page. The next piece, Jan Lievens: Out of Rembrandt's Shadow, was about a contemporary of Rembrandt who, though just as talented an artist, is not nearly as famous. I was stunned to see a painting of "The Feast of Esther" splashed across the page spread. The caption noted that it had been mistaken for an early Rembrandt until the last century. Looking at the picture, I thought it was the very same one I had posted on my class blog just days earlier. Now what were the chances of picking up a magazine that was so related to two of "my" paintings? As it turned out, the Esther scene I had already picked for my blog was by Jan
Victors (another 17th century Dutchman), but looking at the two side by side, I am amazed at their similarities. Of course I added the Lievens one to my collection with instructions for my students to compare them! I was also amused, after I handed out my English class assignments, to find that in their history class my students were studying the Persian empire -- with abundant references to both Daniel and Esther. The paintings shown here are "The Feast of Esther" by Jan Lievens in 1625 and "The Banquet of Esther and Ahasueras" by Jan Victors in 1670.

On my way home from the doctor's appointment, since I was in that edge of town, I decided to stop and see my friend Danielle Trent at her Family Values consignment store. (She uses many of the proceeds to aid abandoned and abused moms and kids.) I chatted with her for a little bit, and just before I was ready to walk out the door, another mom walked in whom Danielle knew. Danielle introduced me to her, we ended up talking for quite a while, and I was able to give her some information to help her work through a troubling situation she had recently experienced. I quickly recognized this as another providential "divine appointment" -- especially since I wouldn't have met the lady if my doctor hadn't been quite so chatty that morning! What timing! The next day, when I met my friend Lisa for lunch, she shared how various articles that I wrote have encouraged her over the years, especially since she had a stroke. In gratitude for "My Glorious Dishtowel" she even crocheted me a rainbow colored dish cloth! (You can see it on her blog post Bits of Crochet.) But the encouragement was certainly not one way. She has been so faithful to lift my spirits with her kind words, right at times I have most needed them. Did either of us fully realize the influence we had on each other? My jaw drops when I think about these things.


Esther's cousin Mordecai, as he urged her to appeal to the king on behalf of the Jews, reminded her, "Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" Why was she, like Daniel hundreds of years earlier, a Jew rising to prominence in the Persian palace? Because God wanted her there to fulfill his purpose, not just for her lifetime, but for generations to come. I don't think that principle is limited to the men and women who walked and talked in the pages of Scripture. It is for us as well. Each of us is here "for such a time as this." God has a unique plan for each and every one of us. Finding two magazine articles and meeting a new friend unexpectedly might seem like tiny coincidences in my own life, but they fit into the bigger picture. I remind my students often about the ripple effect. We may not see it until eternity, but everything we do, everything we say, all has an impact. The kind word we share can encourage someone to do something noble, which will set an example for someone else, who will, in turn.... The question is, how sensitive will we be to the divine nudges to do the right thing? How well will we choose?

Let me close with a YouTube link for the song "For Such a Time as This" by Wayne Watson that I played for my class. Here are the words, too!

Now, all I have is now
To be faithful
To be holy
And to shine
Lighting up the darkness
Right now, I really have no choice
But to voice the truth to the nations
A generation looking for God

For such a time as this
I was placed upon the earth
To hear the voice of God
And do His will
Whatever it is
For such a time as this
For now and all the days He gives
I am here, I am here
And I am His
For such a time as this

You - Do you ever wonder why
Seems like the grass is always greener
Under everybody else's sky
But right here, right here for this time and place
You can live a mirror of His mercy
A forgiven image of grace

Can't change what's happened till now
But we can change what will be
By living in holiness
That the world will see Jesus


Virginia Knowles

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