Kirkepiscatoid

Random and not so random musings from a 5th generation NE Missourian who became a 1st generation Episcopalian. Let the good times roll!

(from art.com)

1 Samuel 1:1-20:

There was a certain man of Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children. Now this man used to go up year by year from his town to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts at Shiloh, where the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were priests of the Lord. On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?” After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.” As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer. They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”

On Saturday, December 11, I enjoyed a wonderful Advent Quiet Morning at Grace Episcopal Church in Jefferson City. That's the home parish of my Episco-blogging pal Lisa. The morning consisted of two guided meditations led by Lisa's priest, Shariya+, followed by a half hour of silence wherever we chose to be in the sanctuary. I had many interesting images in my quiet time, and figured for the next several days to re-process them and blog about them.

The first guided meditation was through the first three chapters of 1 Samuel. In this section, we are given a vignette of Samuel's mother, Hannah, as she "pours her soul out to the Lord" and is discovered by Eli, the priest.

Many times in the Bible we are introduced to the female characters because they are "barren." Sometimes I get a little irked that at times all we ever learn about the women of the Bible is that they seem to always be having fertility issues of one sort or another, but then I remind myself that in an ancient patriarchal society, where women didn't always have a lot of standing, that we should consider ourselves lucky that no one could find a male alternative as powerful to illustrate the notion of "barren-ness." Otherwise we would not even get these glimpses.

But what sticks out for me in this story is where she is mistaken for "drunk" because she is mouthing the words but not saying anything.

No one knows how barren Hannah feels--and I don't just mean "infertile" here--than Hannah herself. She's pretty much sick and tired of being poked by whoever "her rival" is. My guess is her rival is barren in a different way, and Hannah's basically being bullied. Everything at this point has the ability to feel like it's "poking" her. I am willing to bet that even her husband Elkanah's kindness to her--his giving her a "double portion"--feels like "poking." I bet she's even hurt poor Elkanah's feelings over it. I can imagine the conversation:

Hannah: "Why the hell did you do that?"

Elkanah: "Do WHAT?"

Hannah: "Look, everyone knows damn good and well I can't conceive. And there you are, giving me a double portion out in front of God and everybody. Like I'm some kind of broken thing that needs pity. Don't do that to me. It embarrasses me. You call too much attention to me. Don't ever embarrass me like that again. Now SHE's gonna run over to the well and do that "Poor Hannah" crap to the women at the well. I'm tired of being the object of everyone's gossip."

Elkanah: "Well, screw you. See if I ever do anything nice for you again. I was just being nice to you because I love you and I care about you. I'm tired of having my motives questioned. What the hell is wrong with you? I can't deal with this. I'm going out to the shed and feed the animals."

But you get the drift.

How many times when we feel how acutely "barren" we are in stressful places in our lives, does even the kindness of those who love us feel like "poking?"

She feels so overwhelmed--knowing where she is spiritually with all this, that even her attempt to converse with God betrays her loss of self-esteem. She can't even birth the words to verbalize it.

Yet, in her verbal paralysis, something happens. She is able to pour her thoughts out to God. God didn't need the words anyway. In our vignette, though, we see something important. When we are in that state, others are very likely not to "get it." Others are likely to default to the lowest common denominator over what they see.

I imagine the temple at the time of the annual pilgrimages and sacrifices at Shiloh were a messy affair, and I imagine the priests all had to work overtime. It's probably a lot like how Holy Week and Christmas is for modern clergy. Eli was probably worn slick. He was probably sick of chasing loose animals that got away before the sacrifice, he was probably sick of hearing everyone else's problems, he was probably sick of all the people who showed up once a year while the rest of the year he never saw them. I sort of imagining him hearing people confessing to God and Eli thinking, "Oy. You think you got tsuris. Let me tell you tsuris!"

So it's understandable he sees Hannah and thinks, "Oh, great. Another drunk chick all wound up about nothin'." Or maybe he actually knew Hannah and Elkanah somewhat because year after year, they were always there. Regulars. Maybe he knew some of her "stuff" and thought, "Oh, man, I'm not dealing with her piddly stuff again. Except now she's gone out and gotten drunk and she's makin' a damn fool of herself in my temple. I just don't want to go there."

But he discovers she's truly, truly heartsick. I think it's interesting what he does, and maybe it illustrates Eli's wisdom and experience in this instance. He simply reminds her that God hears her. He doesn't give her any advice, he doesn't suggest the "right sacrifice" for this. He doesn't prophesy for her. He just says, "God hears you, Hannah. I know he does. He hears what we say to him in earnest. Take comfort in that. Go home to your husband."

How many times do people come to us in earnest--or vice versa--and all the troubled person wants to be satisfied is to be reminded that God hears us?

We work so hard at doing right by other people that we become either too "others-focused" or we become too self-absorbed in our ability to please or "fix" those we care about. We don't let God be God. We try to be the focus of their recovery instead of God.

But look what happens. That knowledge that Hannah gets from both pouring her soul out to God and simply being told by another person "God hears you, I know he does," helps her "fix herself, with God's help." She becomes more open to the possibility she is not as barren as she thought she was. She's now willing to consider that there truly is room within her where God can do God's work. She evidently makes up with Elkanah and conceives. Not just an ordinary conception, either--a king and prophet.

We all have barren spots in this life. We simply need to be open to being told "God hears us" even when we are pretty sure other people don't. When we are witness to the barren-ness of others, maybe we need to be less fixated on our ability to help them and instead be more willing to point out our own belief that God hears them--and in those tiny seeds of change, great things can take root in our lives.

1 comments:

What a wonderful meditation on what it means to be "barren".

Thank you.

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Kirksville, Missouri, United States
I'm a longtime area resident of that quirky and wonderful place called Kirksville, MO and am wondering what God has hiding round the next corner in my life.

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