I have a lot of things running through my mind on a daily basis, as I’m sure you all do. But every once in a while, just like in a great work of literature, I start to see a common thread. A theme if you will, running through each area, popping in and out like those little moles in the arcade game. They tuck their little heads out just long enough to tease you and then just when you are about to whack them, they are gone again and generally laughing manically in the process. If you’re lucky (or maybe if you just have good reflexes), however, you get one and the ‘doiiiiing’ that echos throughout the arcade is quite satisfying.
That’s how I feel when I see one of these themes—Doiiiiing. Gotcha. Quite satisfying.
It started with Macbeth. I teach it every year, but timing, as they say, is everything. So despite the fact that I talk about these things with a new group of students every few months, I always learn something new from my kids (I guess that’s part of why I like teaching) and so the material is always fresh. This week we did our Brown Bag Exam. I love this test for two reasons. 1) I love the look on my students’ faces when they realize that I’m not joking and this actually their test on the novel. And 2) I love what it teaches the students, deeper levels of critical thinking and synthesis of motif, theme, character, plot, and all elements of narrative. Watching them pull it all together is, well, brilliant. So, despite the fact that one class had to play “Simon Says” at the end because following directions was a little too much for some of them (that’s a story for another time), the test ended and I began grading them. Many of the students were focused on Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s inability to ‘cleanse’ or ‘purify’ themselves of their crimes because they had been ‘soiled’ by evil and covered in blood. I love some of the comments they made. One student, who had soap in her bag said she immediately thought of the old saying “cleanliness is next to godliness”, which Macbeth and Lady Macbeth could never achieve because of their trafficking with evil. No matter how hard they ‘scrubbed’ as Macbeth said “all of Neptune’s Oceans” would not rinse the blood from his hands.
Which brings me to thread number two. In our Bible study this week we were talking about Anna and Elizabeth, as we read through Dynamic Women of the Bible by Ruth A. Tucker. This was a fascinating discussion, from some pretty dynamic women in our church. The thread continued with our discussion of Elizabeth, who becomes the mother of John the Baptist. Since our previous discussion of Sarah the month before was still pretty fresh in our minds, this connected pretty well as both women were well advanced in years when they became pregnant with their children. But where this took a turn is when we began a discussion of the purification process for women after childbirth in Jewish culture. Following the birth of a female child, a woman must undergo an 80 day purification process whereas following the birth of a male child a woman must undergo a 40 day purification process. All feminist arguments about why such a discrepancy must exist aside, we began to discuss when the process would begin given that Elizabeth was present at John’s circumcision (which occurs 8 days after the birth). If she is still being ‘purified’ how is it possible that she can be present? Well, of course, I did some research and I found out, that the “impure” period means that she can simply not be with her husband sexually for the period of 40 days after having a male child and until she goes through the Mikveh process (a period of ritual cleansing in which she bathes in a collective water—doesn’t have to be living water). This then makes her “clean”. The eight day waiting period is also because of a purity and cleansing period, which is why circumcision is done on the eighth day I believe, and is when she is able to enter the temple after undergoing a cleansing process as well (there are many cleansing processes for men too, by the way, just in case you are wondering about all this!). Elizabeth, unlike the Macbeths, brought life into the world—she didn’t take it away, yet she still had to be cleansed. I ruminated on this for days trying to figure out why my brain couldn’t let go of the thread.
And then I remembered Esther.
I’m doing a Bible study with some friends on Esther and we were talking about Chapter two this week, and my thread just got LONGER. Especially verses 8-9: “When the king’s order and edict had been proclaimed, many girls were brought into the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Esther also was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem. The girl pleased him and won his favor. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven maids selected from the king’s palace and moved her and her maids into the best place in the harem.”
Okay, I know what you are thinking: “Ashley, that’s not a mole, that’s a skunk. Let it go.” I know, this doesn’t look like it connects to the Macbeths or to Elizabeth at all, but bear with me. There is a thread.
In the harem, Hegai provided her with beauty treatments. Let’s skip down a few verses to 12: “Before a girl’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics.” Now do you seem my thread? I’m pretty sure that sounds like cleansing to me. And she was already beautiful to begin with, so what in the world was she being cleansed from? Maybe for Esther it wasn’t about being cleansed from anything, but being prepared for something greater. And boy did she get prepared for something…unbelievable (bless her heart).
So what in the world is happening here? Why is my life suddenly filled with stories and ideas and conversations about purity and cleansing?
Honestly, I have no idea. But, I do think it invites me to take a look at my own life and ask myself some hard questions about my motivations and self-interests. Sometimes the threads in our lives take on a theme for a reason, to point out something that need to be cleansed, to point out that we are not perfect, to point out that perhaps those slippery moles can be caught and examined.
And sometimes, it just gives us one more thing to write about.
Whatever the case may be, I don’t ignore them. Because if you ignore the threads, you’re likely to get caught on a nail and unravel. And if you ignore a mole…well, they’re worse than rabbits about multiplying and if you have them in your yard for too long—well, say goodbye to your infrastructure. Whack those moles, and whack them good. It really is quite satisfying.