Thursday, January 28, 2010

Appreciating the Physicality of Birth

My husband is taking a class on Isaiah and the other day he came home excited to share something his teacher had shared in class. In Isaiah 3 it talks about leadership and my husband's teacher pointed out that it is important in order to have effective leadership in the home, in church, in society and in government you need to have the talent and strengthens of both men and women. The teacher asked the class

When you think of the word "Spiritual" what gender do you generally think of?

They replied... Women.

When you think of the word "Physical" what gender do you generally think of?

They replied... Men.

He then continued and said that generally in most societies men's lives are more physically based-- they are biologically physically stronger, they do most of the hard physical work in the family, and in general their minds are more "physically" minded than women's. Women's lives on the other hand are generally more spiritually based-- they focus on creating relationships, they do more of the nurturing and caring work in the family, they are more likely than men to be religious and to join a church, and generally they are more "spiritually" minded than they are "physically" minded.

I thought that this was so interesting and being the birth nut that I am I immediately saw how this applied to my previous post about the importance of birth.

It is so interesting to me that men, whose minds are more physically oriented, are asked to do the more spiritual work in God's kingdom. In D&C 121:41-42 it says that the powers of the priesthood are only to be used through persuasion, long suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned and kindness. These are qualities that are usually considered to be more feminine and which some men, if not given the opportunity to practice them, wouldn't ever develop. It seems to me that God had eternal lessons for his son's to learn that could only be learned by listening to their spiritual self and learning to yield to it.

On the other hand it is interesting that to women, who are more spiritually minded, God gave the more physical work of God's kingdom. Women, who are physically weaker (generally), were given the hard physical task of bearing children. For most women pregnancy, labor and birth are the hardest things they will ever do physically. Carrying and giving birth to a child requires a great deal of endurance, faith in your body's ability, listening to and trusting your body, learning how to handle pain, learning to let go, sheer strength and willpower. Most women wouldn't ever stretch their bodies and their souls in that sort of physical way (I make an exception for marathoners and other athletes) unless they were asked to. God didn't have to design childbirth to be physically hard, but he did. I think it is because He knew that his spiritually minded daughters needed to learn eternal lessons that could only be learned by learning to listen to their physical selves and learning to trust their bodies.

I think that way too often we look over the significance of birth and of the experience women have during it. I know women who are terrified of becoming pregnant, women who when they are pregnant are terrified of labor, and women who in labor are terrified of becoming mothers. I can't help but wonder how their perspective on birth would change if they realized that the reason God gave women the physical trial of birth was to strengthen them spiritually and that there are important eternal lessons to be learned from the process.

We do so much to teach young men about the importance of their priesthood callings and we help prepare them for the hard work they have ahead of them as missionaries and as leaders. From a young age young men know that what they are going to be asked to do will be hard but that they will be given strengthen from God to handle it. Why don't we teach our young women from a young age that what they are going to be called to do will be hard, physically, but that God will give them the strength to handle it. Why aren't we teaching them about the symbolism and importance of birth and motherhood? Why aren't we helping prepare them, from the time they are 12, to handle the physicality of bearing children and motherhood? I can't help but think that if we were doing these things that not as many women would be scared of becoming mothers. I think that if men and women really understood the power and symbolism behind birth that the birth process would be treated much differently that it is. I also think that motherhood would be more valued in society.

What do you think?

Monday, January 11, 2010


Esther 2- 10

Background: 486- 465 BC

After King Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes) the King of Persia, demoted his wife Vashti for disobedience, his servants sought throughout all the providences of his kingdom for "fair young virgins" in order to find a new queen (Esther 2:2-3). The chosen young women were taken to the Palace, Shushan, and were taken to the House of the Women and put under the care of Hegai, the keeper or the women (Esther 2:3). Each woman was "purified" for 12 months before she was given one night with the King. She was able to request whatever she wanted to go with her into the King's house. Once she had her one night with the King she returned to the "second house of the women" and became one of the King's concubines, only going to him when she was called for by name. Only the woman who pleased the King the most would become the new queen.

Facts about her:
  • Her father's name was Abihail (Esther 2: 15) but both her parents had died and she was being raised by her cousin Mordecai who had taken her as his own daughter (Esther 2:7). Mordecai was a Jew who had been carried away from Jerusalem during the Babylonian invasion (Esther 2:6);
  • When she was taken to the House of the Women she became good friends with Hegai, the keeper of the women (he would have been an eunuch). Hegai gave her seven servants, placed her in the best spot in the house and "speedily gave her her things for purification, with such things as belonged to her." (Esther 2: 9);
  • Esther didn't let anyone know she was Jewish and Mordecai walked everyday outside the court of the women to see how she was doing (Esther 2:10-11);
  • When her time came to have her night with the King she "required nothing but what Hegai... appointed. And Esther obtained favor in the sight of all them that looked upon her." (Esther 2: 15)
  • The king loved Esther more than all the other virgins and she obtained grace and favor in his sight. He made her queen and gave a great feast and sent presents throughout all his providences (Esther 2: 17-19);
  • When she was queen Mordecai overheard a plot to kill the king, he told Esther about it and Esther warned the king (Esther 2: 20-23);
  • Because Mordecai wouldn't bow to him Haman, the king's highest adviser, hated Mordecai and told the king he would pay him a large sum of money if he could destroy all the Jews, "both young and old, little children and women, in one day." (Esther 3:1-15);
  • When Mordecai heard what was going to happen he rent his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes and went before to wail before the King's gate (Esther 4: 1-3). Esther's maids saw him and Mordecai sent Esther a message asking her to supplicate with the King on the Jew's behalf (4: 4-10);
  • Esther told Mordecai that she couldn't go to the King because anyone, man or woman, who went into the King's inner chamber without being called would be killed unless he held out the golden scepter to them. Esther hadn't been called to the King for over thirty days (4: 11). Mordecai tells her that if she doesn't talk to the King she will be killed along with all the other Jews. He tells her, "... who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (4: 12-13);
  • Esther asks him to have all the Jews in the palace fast for her for three days, and she and her maidens would fast also (4: 16). She says, "... so will I go unto the king, which is not according to the law, and if I perish, I perish."
  • At the end of three days she put on her royal apparel and stands within the King's inner court. He sees her and holds out the royal scepter to her. He offers her what ever she wants, even if it be half of the kingdom (5: 1-3). She invites him and Haman to a banquet. During the banquet of wine the King again offers Esther anything she wants and she once again invites him and Haman to another banquet (5: 4-8);
  • During the second banquet Esther tells the King she is Jewish and that Haman is the one responsible for wanting to kill the Jews. The Kings stormed out and when he came back He found Haman "fallen upon the bed whereon Esther was".
  • The King hung Haman on the gallows Haman was going to hang Mordecai on and gives Esther the house of Haman (7: 9-10; 8:1).
  • Once again Esther entered the King's chamber uninvited. She fell down at the King's feet and begged him not kill the Jews ( 8:3-6). He held out his scepter to her and promised to retracted his decree to kill the Jews. He told Mordecai, who has been promoted to high office, to allow the Jews to arm themselves and fight against those who were persecuting and oppressing them. 
  • On the same day the Jews were to be killed, Jews all over the Persian empire destroyed their enemies but didn't kill women, children or take plunder (Esther 9);
  • When the Jews were victorious Mordecai sent out a letter to establish Purim as a holiday in which to remember their deliverance and Esther "wrote with all authority to confirm this second letter of Purim." (9:29).
Speculations about her:
  • The scriptures don't say but she probably took the Persian name Esther when she was taken to the palace because Mordecai and warned her that she shouldn't make her Jewish heritage known (Esther 2:10);
  • It may be the reason she was an orphan was because her parents were killed during the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem or on the trek to Persia as slaves;
  • When the Persian King Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem she could have gone but obviously chose to stay with Mordecai;
  • Esther 2: 5 says that Mordecai, Esther's uncle, was living in the palace so it is possible that Esther had grown up in the palace. She may have already been well acquainted with what had happened to Vashti, the customs and rules of the palace, and the king's temperament. How ironic that she may have been right under the king's nose the whole time!
  • Most biblical scholars think that Esther's King Ahasuerus was probably the same person as Xerxes the Great, one of the most well documented Kings of the Persian empire. Even thought the Greek Septuagint and Josephus claimed he was Artaxerxes I (Longimanus).
  • Some scholars believe that the Book of Esther was written by the prophet Nehemiah who was a contemporary of Esther and probably lived in the palace at the same time she did.

My Thoughts:

Esther's story is really quite scandalous. It is full of divorce, virgins, eunuchs, women trying to win the queenhood by pleasing the King in bed, harems, seduction, concubines, murder plots, political schemes, executions, and mass murders. I've heard people question the wisdom of hanging her picture up in the Sunday School class rooms of the Young Women. Is she a good role model of them considering her highly scandalous story?

Despite the questionable content of her story I think that the Esther/Hadassah story is an incredible story that has a lot of potential to teach us about who we are and remind us of our divine nature. There are two parts of her story that especially stand out to me. The first is when Mordecai, clothed in his sack cloth and ashes asks Esther to risk her life by supplicating the King on behalf of he Jews and tells her" ... who knoweth whether thou art come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (4: 12-13)

I'm sure that Esther's life did not turn out like she had imagined. I doubt that being carried off to the royal palace to become the King's concubine was in her life plan. I can only imagine the devastation she felt at being torn from her family and her way of life and being thrown into a wicked and dangerous situation. In a very real way Esther's becoming queen, instead of having to live out her life as one of the hundreds of concubines in the Kings harem, was a deliverance from God. She was incredibly blessed and consequently was in just the right position to save the entire Jewish nation. Even though God is never specifically mentioned in the story, it is pretty obvious that He is the one directing and guiding Esther's life.

I think sometimes we don't realize how carefully God orchestrates the intricacies of our lives. He grants us blessings and privileges, not just because we have earned them through our faithfulness, but because he knows we can be of service in his divine work. Many of us are in the families, the communities, the nations, the jobs and the callings we have because, like Esther, we have been carefully placed there for "such a time as this." I don't believe that with God anything is coincidence. He knows each and everyone of us intimately, he knows our weaknesses, our strengths and what we have the potential to do. He is in perfect control of the Universe and sees us not as mere mortals but as eternal beings with great and powerful missions to accomplish. I believe that many of us are put here on Earth to finish the work we began in the pre-existence. I also believe that God puts us in places here on Earth where only we can do the work that He needs done and like Esther we have the opportunity to reject or accept that work.

The other powerful phrase of the Esther story comes when she, in the face of almost certain death, chooses to accept the work the Lord has for her and says, "... so will I go unto the king, which is not according to the law, and if I perish, I perish (4: 16)". She was a true woman of courage and faith. She was asked to do something hard, really hard, and she did it through faith in God and in His power. What type of trial would it take in your life to make you feel you needed to fast, and ask everyone you knew to fast, for three days? Would you have the faith to walk into an impossible situation with faith? Personally I don't know if I would and so Esther's example of courage and faith is especially powerful for me.

So despite the scandalous nature of her story, which if you remember the time period in which she lived isn't quite as scandalous, I think that Esther/Hadassah is a powerful example for our Young Women. She reminds us that when our lives doesn't go as we planned we need to look for God's hand in our lives. Instead of despairing at lost dreams we need to look around us and find out why God has put us where we are. We need to ask our selves what work He has for us that only we can do and like Esther we need to accept that work and go forward with courage, prayer and fasting.

What we can learn from her:
  • Sometimes the Lord places us in just the right places to get his work done. When our life doesn't turn out how we expect don't despair but rather ask yourself, " Am I here for 'such a time as this'?"
  • The Lord's timing is perfect;
  • In those times when we can't see God's hand directly working in our lives we need to remember that He is still the one "running the show" and have faith in his plan for our lives;
  • The Lord is able to deliver us out of impossibly hard situations;
  • Prayer and fasting work works miracles;
  • Even though Esther's husband King Ahasuerus is one of the most well documented Persian Kings, and was waging a huge war at the time of the Book of Esther (perhaps one of the reasons it was so dangerous for anyone to come into him uninvited), the writer of the Book of Esther thought that a woman's story was more important to record and had more spiritual significance.
Questions to think about:
  • Why do you think the King loved Esther above all the other women? What was it about her, besides her beauty, that made her special and stand out to him?
  • Why didn't Esther just ask the King for what she wanted right away? Why did she keep inviting him to banquets? Could it have been that the timing wasn't yet right? Had she received guidance from the Lord on how to best achieve what she needed?
  • How have you seen God's hand work in your life? Are you in the place you are in your life "for such a time as this" as well?
Side note: The photographs above are from "One Night With the King" a movie about the Esther story. I can't highly recommend it, it is a bit bloody and scandalous, but considering the topic matter I was incredibly impressed they managed to keep it PGish.