Hannah (1 Samuel 1-2)
The afternoon sun beat down on Hannah as she hurried toward the center of Shiloh. Hannah made her way up the hill to the city gates, passing hundreds of tents which had become temporary homes to families like her own. She paused and turned back, looking down on the tent city. Her eyes were drawn toward her own family’s encampment. She searched for a moment, wondering if her husband, Elkanah, Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah or Peninnah’s children had noticed her absence. But all was quiet. They had all gone into the tents to escape the afternoon heat.
Hannah turned her gaze back toward the center of the city. In the distance she could see the linen cloth that made up the outer boundary of the holy tabernacle fluttering in the wind; her destination.
She made her way quietly through the entrance. Keeping her head bowed, she passed the great altar of sacrifice where Elkanah had offered up their annual sacrifice earlier that day. Afterwards he had given Hannah, Peninnah, and Peninnah’s children their portion of the sacrifice. As he did every year, Elkanah had presented Hannah with the largest portion before moving on to the rest of his family. Hannah’s eyes burned hot as she watched him move down the line. When Elkanah turned back, he saw tears spilling out of Hannah’s eyes.
“Hannah, my beloved, what’s wrong? Why are you crying? Are you hungry? Thirsty? Maybe you need to sit down?”
“No.” Hannah said to her husband through her tears, “and how do you still not understand? How, after all these years together, do you still not realize that my heart is broken?”
“I, uhm,” was all Elkanah could muster.
“Children, Elkanah, I have no children!” Hannah wailed, “Year after year I beg God for a child and every year I walk through those gates alone! I stand before this altar, alone! I watch as Peninnah gives you child after child, and I am alone!” sobbing she turned and ran from the holy precincts of the Tabernacle.
That was hours ago and now she had returned, alone. She walked closer to the central tent, the holy Tabernacle, wherein dwelt the very presence of God. She dared not enter, for the space was reserved for the priests of God. Instead, she moved slowly around it until she was standing in the shadow of the great tent.
Hannah dropped to her knees. Curling over, her head touched the soft, brown earth at the edge of the tent and she began to weep. All the anger and grief she had been carrying for so long coalesced into great, heaving sobs. The depth of her sadness filled her and, as she wept, the words began to form in her heart.
“Adonai, my God. Where are you? Why have you forgotten me?
Have you forgotten me, or do you just not care?
What have I done to make you angry? What have I done to cause you to deny me a child?
I’ve followed you all my life. I pray, I offer sacrifices, I follow your commandments, and still, I am alone”
Sobs wracked her body as she sat up straight and cast her gaze toward heaven. Her lips moved silently as she poured out her anger and grief to God.
“You there!” an angry voice shouted, startling her. Hannah leapt to her feet as the angry voice yelled again, “You! What are you doing? Why are you drunk inside the holy dwelling of the Lord?”
A rotund man walked resolutely toward her, his eyes aflame with righteous anger. He was a priest, and not just any priest, the most senior priest, Eli, the servant of the Lord.
“My lord,” she said, bowing low, “forgive me, I was just praying.”
“What?” Eli asked in disbelief.
“Praying, my lord, I was praying to God.” Hannah replied.
“You’re not drunk?” Eli asked, his voice softening slightly.
“No, my lord.” Hannah said, as she wiped the tears from her eyes, “I was praying.”
Eli’s gaze deepened as he looked at Hannah. He was beginning to sense the movement of the Spirit in this moment. “What were you praying for, my child?” he asked, drawing her to a seat near the doorpost.
“A child.” Hannah said quietly.
“A child?” Eli asked.
“Yes,” she said, looking into Eli’s eyes as tears began to fill her own. “Every year we come to Shiloh to make our annual sacrifice, and every year I pray to God for a child, and every year it is the same…silence,” she said, as she dropped her gaze to the ground and began to weep again.
Eli sat silently, allowing Hannah’s grief to swell and overflow, filling the space between them. Eventually, he reached out and took hold of Hannah’s clenched hands and held them in his. They sat together in silence as Eli held Hannah’s shaking hands, tears rolling down her cheeks. They sat together, in the shadow of the holy tent. At last, Hannah raised her head, her tear-stained cheeks flushed from crying.
“Thank you, my lord, I’m so sorry,” she said, as she reclaimed her hands and hastily wiped away her tears.
“For what?” said Eli, “for sharing your grief? For bringing your pain into this holy space and allowing it to be seen and heard and felt? No, my child, there is nothing to be sorry for. This space was made for grief, for sadness, for lament. God hears, and God’s heart breaks with yours.”
Hannah held back tears as his gentle words washed over her. She took a deep, ragged breath, and began to stand, “Thank you, my lord, I must be getting back before every one wonders where I’ve gone.”
Eli stood and took her hands again, “Don’t lose faith my child, God will never forget you. And, who knows, perhaps the next time we meet, it will be to introduce me to your son.”
Hannah began to shake her head and look away, but his grip on her hands tightened slightly and she looked into his eyes again. There was no guile or amusement there, he spoke with the deepest of conviction, as one speaking for God’s own self.
“Perhaps,” Hannah said, hope filling her heart again, “perhaps…”
Questions to ponder
What was your favorite part of the story?
Where did you see God in the story?
What is God inviting you to try on today in light of the story?
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