Kirkepiscatoid

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


("Hannah gives her son to the priest," Jan Victors, 1645)

1 Samuel 1:28--2:10:

Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.”

She left him there for the Lord.
Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. “There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world. “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail. The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.”

Another place I went in the meditation about the story of Hannah and Samuel was that fateful day Hannah really DID leave little Samuel at the temple. I thought a lot about that long donkey ride back home and Samuel's first night away from home.

Hannah's grief must have been palpable. I thought about how usually, coming home is a pleasant experience, but coming home to that empty place at the table, that empty bed, must have cast a pall on it. Yes, they were going home, but "home" had been changed. Yet she found it within her to thank God for his powerful, glorious might. Being able to praise God in the midst of our own heartbroken-ness is a gift many of us find lacking.

We don't hear anything about Elkanah in this story. When I sit with this story, I imagine his own more or less quiet grief, overshadowed by Hannah's emotion--that feeling of one's own heart breaking but that sense that your own grief is somehow "not as important" as those around you who are more freely emoting. There's just a heaviness that sets in when a person who does not feel as "emotionally free" is surrounded by people who can "wail and cry at the sight of a good steak," as my grandparents used to say. Elkanah knows he can't touch Hannah's grief. He knows by her line of reasoning, he's being "distant"--but how can he even begin to touch what has wounded her when he can't even touch his own wounds?

In my mind's eye, I think about how, though, maybe this unlikely combo of emotions on the ride home "works." Perhaps Hannah still feels the sense of quiet presence that Elkanah brings--that eventually, stability will come--just not right now. Perhaps Elkanah is comforted by Hannah's ability to praise God when he can't. I mean, we are all imbued with some kind of emotional default. The emotional are always going to be emotional. Those who stuff their grief deep down inside themselves are always going to stuff their grief. It's just a matter of finding balance within that default.

Then, of course, there's little Samuel.

It must have been very scary spending the night in the temple that first night. Back in those days, people didn't think twice about letting their children sleep with them. Simply sleeping alone must have been a shock for Samuel. Trying to sleep in unfamiliar surroundings, on an unfamiliar mat, around an unfamiliar place, had to make every strange sound, every strange smell, every strange sensation seem five times as loud, smelly, and weird-feeling. No special toy left behind would be comforting enough. My guess is he very likely cried himself to sleep. It might have been the first time he felt utterly rejected and abandoned. He probably couldn't even imagine waking up. Afraid to sleep, afraid to wake. Even little children can sense that level of "stuck." I found it ironic he felt this rejection and abandonment in a place where every pillar and post screamed "God is here." I am pretty sure that first night Samuel wouldn't have seen God anywhere...only emptiness and coldness and unfamiliarity.

Finally, my mind wandered to Eli. Although it was probably not unusual in those days to leave children at the temple, as an offering to the priesthood, Eli was getting older. He probably didn't take to these little children quite so easily as he used to. Perhaps he remembered the episode some time back of Hannah sobbing in the temple, unable to speak her prayers, and thought something along the lines of, "Well, this one sure came back and bit me in the butt."

But maybe another thought ran through Eli's brain as he was sorting this all out. We discover later that Eli's own sons, also priests, well...let's just say they appear to be dirtbags. Perhaps he looked at little Samuel and thought, "Yeah, I'm getting a little old for this...but you know, maybe this is a do-over. My own sons are on their own path, and it's sure not the path I would have preferred. I suppose I wasn't a great parent OR a great teacher. Maybe I get one more chance with this little guy. God, is that what you want from me out of this?"

Oh, my, so many take home lessons if we simply follow the people in this story around! We have all been in situations where "doing the right thing" still results in grief. We leave many things at the altar that don't always seem terribly joyful at the time. Some of us bear our grief with high emotion, some of us are more inward about it. Yet the two can co-exist and each can help to heal the other. We can feel alone and abandoned even smack dab in the middle of God's temple. Finally, in these strange places we find that we get "do-overs" in our lives...opportunities that don't always look like opportunities at first.

Who are we in this story? Are we more connected to one of the characters? How do we bear our grief? Where are the opportunities for do-overs? When has the presence of God seemed cold and lonely and frightening to us? These stories are not ancient--they are our stories today.

1 comments:

All I can say right now is that I am truly savoring these posts... you have been leaving me speechless.

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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