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Once upon a time – or maybe it was just last year – or maybe it is yet to be – there was a beautiful queen. She had power. A full staff served her. Ladies in waiting surrounded. Everything she desired and then some was at her beck and call.
As the story goes, her husband, King Xerxes, was in the midst of a 6-month party. ” For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty.” When those days came to an end, he threw a banquet that lasted another seven days. All the people from the least to the greatest within his kingdom were there. Wine was served in goblets of gold and each guest was allowed to drink as much as they wanted, for the king had instructed his wine stewards to serve each man whatever he wished.
Simultaneous to all this, Queen Vashti, was giving a banquet for the women; those who accompanied and served the men.
On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in “high spirits” from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him to bring Queen Vashti into his presence – wearing her royal crown – so that he could display her beauty to the people and nobles, “for she was lovely to look at.” But when Queen Vashti received the king’s command, right there, in front of all the women who surrounded her, she refused.
As might be expected, the king was furious. he consulted with his experts: “According to the law, what must be done to Queen Vashti?” he asked. “She has not obeyed the command of King Xerxes…” One of his advisors replied, “Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes. For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands and potentially follow her lead… There will be no end of disrespect and discord. Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree, written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she. Then when the king’s edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest.”
The king and his nobles were pleased with this advice, so the edict was proclaimed. Dispatches were sent to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language, proclaiming that every man should be ruler over his own household, using his native tongue.
And Queen Vashti was removed from her throne, from her rule, from her position of privilege and power.
But that was hardly the end of her story…
If you’ve heard this story before it might have been by way of warning: don’t refute the will of the king, men in leadership, and certainly that of your husband. I don’t presume you ascribe to this kind of blind obedience, but that doesn’t mean the residual isn’t still in the water. In Eastern cultures, it’s a given and in many religious contexts even in the Western world, the same holds true. The message is clear: Do what you’re asked and told, or you too, will be deposed and sent packing.
To be fair, other tellings of Vashti’s story have allowed her rightful and appropriate compassion. Her husband was clearly drunk – as were all of his council. She was asked to parade before a veritable orgy; to show herself as an object-on-display. Stunningly, it was her awareness of her own objectification that caused her to say “no.” And hardly in private memo back to the king. She willingly and boldly, even defiantly, became an object lesson on behalf of all the women who had surrounded her those past seven days; all the women who would later and undoubtedly hear her story. And though a law was passed to teach her a lesson (and any woman who might take the craziest notion to follow her lead), no woman would ever forget her: such raw courage and beauty displayed.
We would do well to remember her, as well.
Imagine that Queen Vashti is sitting in your living room. A cup of coffee or tea, or maybe wine (though not in gold goblets) is poured. She sits as regally as ever. You can viscerally sense the deep, timeless wisdom present in the room; embodied within her and swirling around you. What does she say regarding your current circumstances, the place in which you find yourself, the decisions you are being asked to make, the compromises that loom? Given her willingness to be deposed on behalf of honoring herself, her value, her worth, what risks does she call you to take?
Hear the voice of this queen. Pay attention to the actions of this queen. Recognize and honor the heart of this queen. The more you do, the more you will realize that this voice, these actions, and this heart are yours…within you…part of you…accessible to call on, rely on, and trust. In other words, this Queen’s blood runs in yours. Vashti’s voice speaks into your deep, timeless wisdom, calling forth the truth you already know, the choices you’re required to make, the story you are destined to live.
Vashti beckons you to step into your rightful role and stand your ground. And though this may feel daunting, you are not alone. She remains with you – ever present, powerful, brave – and offers you beyond-imagining courage to claim all that you deserve. For you are her daughter, her lineage, her kin.
Subsequent to Queen Vashti’s banishment, the search began for a new Queen. Esther was chosen: a young woman who ultimately saved an entire nation. Unknowingly, but no less significantly, it was Vashti’s courage that enabled Esther’s. (That tale upcoming in the next few weeks…) Likewise, you can be certain that your story is not told or lived in isolation. When you step into your royal identity and stand your ground, you enable other women’s stories, as-yet unknown, to take the stage, step into the light, and become realized in profound, powerful, and legendary ways.
Truth-be-told, Vashti’s story is what enables yours. She stood on the shoulders of the women who came before her. And you stand on those that have preceded and followed. Generations of women who, in their own unique and particular ways, have engendered and enabled your strength, your story. This is the heritage of which you are a part; the bloodline that cannot be ignored; the crown that is yours to don – or maybe even remove; a legacy of which you are a part and one that is yours to continue – just by being you and standing your ground for the story you deserve to tell and live.
When you do, Queen Vashti smiles – her every consequence worth it all.
May it be so.
I cannot begin to tell you how powerful it is – when asked a heartfelt question by a woman desiring this kind of deep, timeless wisdom – to turn over a card and see Vashti’s name or any of the other 51 in the deck of cards I’ve crafted. I am humbled every single time. More, I am emboldened and encouraged. Because every single time the card that is revealed, the story that’s within, and the woman herself, speak profoundly, provocatively, and poignantly. This is their enduring power, enduring worth, and deep, timeless, wisdom; their infinite companionship and kindness. And all of it is yours. All you have to do is ask.
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