In lectionary group this week we discussed a variety of themes and pressing questions that surround our text from Samuel. In just twenty-eight verses, we find a quagmire of issues: patriarchy and its fallout, how God intervenes (or not) in specific human circumstances, the dynamics of childbirth and their relationship to our faith…the list goes on. This is the joy of lectionary group: that we collectively pose more questions, recognize more parallels to everyday life, and draw more from the scripture than from reading it alone.
Eventually our group settled on talking about Hannah’s prayer. It was startling that as Hannah prayed fervently, she elicited a strong response from Eli the priest. Eli questioned not just Hannah’s sincerity, but also accused her of being drunk because of her appearance while engaged in her act of prayer by mouthing words. Hannah chose to reply, “Not so, my lord, I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman. I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”
This is a brave response. Taken at face value, this leaves little room to wonder what was truly coursing through her inner world. Hannah was engaged in deep conversation with God. Interestingly, it was a prominent spiritual leader who was unable to recognize the spiritual practice taking place. Later on, Hannah’s prayers are answered, and her first son, the prophet Samuel, is born. She dedicates his life to God in faithful response.
I wonder, how often are we unable to recognize the work of the Holy Spirit that is taking place in front of us? Perhaps we are like Eli – somewhat jaded by modern forms of “drunkenness” and corruption. I also wonder how many of us take prayer seriously as part of our spiritual life. Like Hannah, we often limit prayer to asking God for something for ourselves or on behalf of others. Yet, prayer is much more than that. It can be a running conversation with our Creator bestowing knowledge, offering praise, practicing gratitude, confessing our shortcomings and creating intimacy between us and the One we are praying too. Prayer is, in many ways, foreign to us because of its intense vulnerability and behaviors which defy our social norms.
May we have the heart of this woman; whose prayers came so earnestly and faithfully that we become lost in our conversation with the creator. May we pray not to petition and to receive, but to be transformed and offer our friendship to Christ the way he has to us.
Grace and Peace,