Some Bible stories present timeless experiences of human beings through all ages. Experiences that we all can allow ourselves to identify with and use as guides in our individual and collective journeys. When we see ourselves in others' stories, only then have we managed to make good use of Sacred text. As long as it is only someone else's story there is a high risk that it quickly becomes to us a 'so what.' I find the story of Hannah to be timeless and a potential spiritual resource for each of us. Listen to the story of Hannah.(Scripture Reading: I Samuel 1:4-20, 2:1-10)
The story shows two quite opposite very human inner experiences. The first is a deep longing and yearning that can place one in moments of spiritual despair. The second is a state of indescribable jubilation and joy. Of course we would welcome the second of these but perhaps the story tells us that before such celebratory joys must come times of agonizing need and longing. Hannah was distraught that she had been barren. It continued year after year. In our day many women who long to have a child suffer deeply when they are unable to. Medicine has developed in vitro fertilization and other therapies that often help a woman to become pregnant. But time or technology can never erase the significance of the longing for a child which never seems to come.
In Hannah's culture a woman was scorned and teased unmercifully if she did not bear children. Child bearing was practically the litmus test for being a full woman. We know now that is not so and there are many completely fulfilled women who do not bear children . Hannah specifically yearned for a child so that, for her, life would be complete and a highest meaning of her life realized.
What can we learn from this about our own spiritual lives? It is informing us that humans can typically discover times when he/she has such a deep longing for some kind of specific need or situation of life. The implications are not just about a woman desiring to be a mother but a spiritual experience anyone can have. Most every human at some time in life becomes aware of what seems like something important that is needed but missing. A person is fortunate if they realize what it seems to be that is so deeply needed. Then like Hannah ones life becomes a prayer for this missing aspect of life to come into reality. The story says should we be so moved by deeply felt need that we are permitted and encouraged to take it seriously. Some will say, 'Oh count your blessings. You just think you need that. Get over it.' But not Hannah. Her husband's love was strong and deep for her. He so hated to see her suffer in her deep unfulfilled yearning. But he stopped short of putting her down or taking her yearning as somehow a rejection of him. There are times in human life when even our dearest loved ones are no substitute for that deep yearning. If you ever find such a fire burning in you , you might use this story to help you not give up on your dream. You can be like Hannah.
Often a young adult feels pressure to answer society's question, “What are you going to do?” It can be most miserable to have to say in honesty , ' I just don't know. I have many interests.' Such a young person can use this story as a spiritual help. It reminds them that it can become true for them that something will come to their awareness that truly becomes a searing flame for what they wish to do. We should not give up or be discouraged if we do not have such a present clear focus of yearning. In many periods of life we are carrying out the activities of the details of some desired goal that has already come into reality. We don't need the Hannah experience in such times. But very likely at another time we again will need the Spirit's prompting and challenge of a new longing. Then we can join Hannah in praying for the way to open to our new vision. The Hannah experience may be once in a life time or many times.
As a youth I had no strong interest in the family sporting goods business. I was good at saying 'May I interest you in a pair of sweat socks?', but the office machines and accounts receivable files I knew were not my thing. I can think of twice in my life when I felt the urgency of a Hannah kind of experience. One was not until I was approaching forty years old. I can recall suddenly being aware that I needed more specific training for ministry and saw no way I could get it at my age and with a family to feed. So I nurtured that need and allowed myself to take it seriously as part of a Spirit nudging me. And eventually in ways I would not have ever expected was able to receive what I needed and do the ministry I felt called to.
I would imagine that often what we think we need turns out taking a different form in reality than how we had first prayed. With Hannah it seems her needs were literally met nearly exactly as she imagined them. But keep in mind the symbolism of this sacred story can be taken that we all wish to 'give birth' to what fulfills our life. And there is just as much jubilation when we are shown a different path than what we first imagined. We many then see that the altered path fits our deepest longing in surprising new ways. But no fulfilling path can be found unless we take seriously our yearning as best we can 'see' it. Remember that Jesus prayed for exactly what he needed but also knew the wisdom that says, 'But thy will be done.”
This all makes me think of prayer as not begging God to do something for me but more simply admitting to myself and God how deeply I feel some particular need. Hannah's story is not really instructing us about when life deals us such a blow we wonder how we are going to get through it , such as the loss of a loved one. That also deserves our prayerful attention. Hannah's story is more about something that a person ponders in their heart for a long period of time. It is like an incubation process. I hope you will let yourself use Hannah's story to be aware that such a focused yearning can indeed come to you at any phase of life and you will then know better what to do with it. Yes, you can be like Hannah.
Well, just as strong as Hannah's aching and yearning heart was the joy that came to her eventually. After she had experienced being taken for a drunk and perhaps being a little bit crazy did Eli, the man of God, recognize that Hannah was in deep communication with the Sacred. She was seeking expression for the dream in her deepest heart. Only when Eli saw this did he realize that what he should be saying to the struggling woman is, 'Peace be with you' and lend his support to her great longing. From that moment Hannah seems to know beyond all doubt that she will have a Child. She does and great is her joy. Notice also, she has known all along that her yearning is not just something to bless her own personal life and ambition but that this child will be a blessing to others. The long yearned for event was not really her personal possession.. It was a gift to many. She begins her song of Jubilation by saying, 'God has granted me the yearning of my heart, this baby boy. So I have lent him to the Lord as for as long as he lives.' Her son became the wise Judge-King of Israel.
We can wisely utilize Hannah's story by paying attention to our own heart. For it is a common human happening that longings regarding life and its needs sometime come into conscious awareness. Needs that we feel not only involve our personal fulfillment but that may also bring blessings and answers to problems of our family, our church, even of our nation or world. It is nowhere else but the human heart and its longings that the beginnings of the solutions of great and personal problems are born. Just as in the Christmas story there are many ways that 'a child is born.'
Prayer: Dear God. We thank you for Hannah's story. Let us know it is also our own story in the unique ways which you promise to be alive in each of us. Help us to listen for that yearning need, then confidently give it our prayerful hopeful attention. Let our hearts be places where important issues of life are incubated to come forth into our world as wonderful blessings. And that we will be always rejoicing and singing praises to your name. Amen