Women Of The Old Testament: Hannah’s Silent Prayer

Steve Lindsley
(1 Samuel 1: 1-20)

She kneels alone in the tent of meeting,
In the place where Yahweh is praised;
Where generations before, and those to come
Cross the threshold from the mundane into the holy.                                         

She goes in there for hours, day after day,
Entering this solemn place and baring her soul
And laying before God the wishes on her heart.

She kneels there, head resting in hands,
Eyes shut,
As if the tighter they are closed,
The more fervent her prayer will be,
The more inclined God’s ear will be to it.

He watches her every day as she enters,
Her face forlorn with the weight of unrealized dreams.
Eli wonders to himself what it is that troubles her
As she takes her place at the front,
Bending down as if to kiss the ground,
Her lips moving but no sound coming out of them.

And it this that bothers him
For it is contrary to their custom.
No one prays silently to God,
No one keeps petitions to themselves.
For prayers, like songs of praise,
Are meant to be voiced, expressed, shared.
And yet she remains silent, her lips moving without ceasing,
As if she has lost her voice
Or her mind.
Or, as he concludes,
Has taken in too much wine.

So one day at high noon, he confronts her,
Speaking as a man of great importance,
With no time for one bearing such low regard for the sacred.
How long, he asks, will you make a fool of yourself?
Put away your wine!  Leave this place!

But she responds to his accusations with clarity of mind,
With the tears of an innocent,
And the voice of one with wounds running deep.
I’ve had no wine today, she says,
But I am drinking deep from the well of my sorrows.
And then she shares with Eli the source of her pain:

The dutiful husband, who lavishes her with love,
And the womb inside her
Which bears them no children.
And so, her silent prayer to God, day in, day out,
Never changing:
Give me a son, she pleads through her pain,
And I will give him back to you as a Nazirite,
Raised and trained to bring you glory.
This, her unvoiced prayer.

The priest Eli stands corrected
And is touched by her trials,
So much that he bestows upon her a blessing:
That God may hear the cries of God’s servant
And grant the young woman what she so steadfastly seeks.

Do you know, people of God, what it is like
To be like Hannah?
To want something so much
That the quest for it consumes your every thought,
Requires of you every waking hour,
Holds your very consciousness captive?
Do you know?

A young child, lying in bed on Christmas Eve, wide awake,
Straining to hear the anticipated sound
Of reindeer hoofbeats overhead
The more he waits, the longer it feels.

The family gatherings in the waiting room –
Feigning interest in the magazine they hold in their hands.
It’s been three hours since they took her back,
And they wonder to themselves
How the surgery is going.

A high school senior engages a new ritual:
Daily scans of the email inbox or mailbox at the street,
Tossing aside catalogs and swiping past junk email,
Looking longingly for an envelope bearing the university logo,
Or a subject line reading: Congratulations!

It was good news of a different kind that Hannah longed to hear,
That she, after long wait, would be with child,
And perhaps that is why her prayers came in silence –
Allowing space for the angel’s announcement to be
Just as it was for Sarah years before.
But she is still waiting.

Or, maybe Hannah’s silence was borne from the fact
That she was just the quiet type,
Unwilling to divulge her troubles to others around her,
Choosing to blend in with the scenery.

Or maybe – just maybe – it was something else
Promoting her persistent silence.
Could it be that Hannah was……
Afraid?

Afraid to share her heartfelt desire
In the very place, and in whose presence
That possibility might present itself.
To speak aloud the dreams of one’s heart
Is to open the door for God’s great gift,
The fulfillment of hopes,
And vindication of a strong faith.

But to dream and hope, the dreamer and hoper would say,
Is also to risk
To risk the possibility of that which is being asked
Not coming to pass;
Dashed hopes, unfulfilled dreams,
And a wounded faith left wondering why.

Would that not be enough to elicit in any one of us
Silent prayer?

We think of others in scripture who have followed Hannah’s lead,
Moses, standing before the Red Sea,
The Egyptians quickly approaching,
Ready to unleash their vengeance,
Moses holds high his staff, closes his eyes
As if hesitant to witness the miracle unfold,
He prays silently: May these waters part.

Gideon, laying before God a fleece
Placing it on the floor, to be damp with morning dew,                                                                                        And the floor underneath dry as bone.
And so silently praying:  Let this be if you wish me to serve.

Mary, a young innocent barely a teenager, set to marry Joseph,
Faced with a pregnancy she did not need nor desire,
What would the neighbor’s say?
An angel delivers a message that her son belongs to God

And to the world he was sent to save.
She sings her joy, but in the notes
Certainly a melody of silent prayer:
God, Give me the strength to do this.

Jesus, son of God, in the darkest of hours
Lying on the grounds of Gethsemane,
Tears shed so strongly, it is as if they were the same blood
That would pour from his body hours later.
He bears the agony of the world, and of his own human soul.
And so silently praying: May this cup pass,
But if not my will, yours be done.

Sometimes our most fervent prayers
Are ones we choose to lift up in silence.
Because to hear them spoken from our own lips
Means we embody into existence the unbelievable,
Means we embrace that which did not once seem possible.
Means we dare to believe.
And in so doing, we leap with reckless abandon
Out of the comfortable and ordinary,
Out of that which we have always known
Into something new, something bold,
The realm of risk-filled possibilities;
The “not-yet”
In a world that prefers the tried and true.

Sometimes our silent prayers, while prayers nonetheless,
Are made to protect our faith from harm,
Defense mechanisms of the soul.
For we somehow imagine it easier to embrace a “run-of-the-mill” miracle
Than to behold the fulness of God in our midst,
Shaking the foundations of this world.

In their day, silent prayers were lifted for many things:
New life out of death, waters parting;
Damp fleeces and dry floors; the birth of a savior.
Today, ours are different and yet one and the same:
The mending of broken hearts
Torn apart by loss.
The fulfillment of our lives
When fraught with meaninglessness.                
The ending of depression
When days of darkness fill our soul.
The faithful perseverance of constancy
As we encounter the forceful winds of change.
The healing of our spirits
During seasons of grief and sorrow.
We hope, we aspire, we dream, we reach, we pray silently
For God’s goodness in our lives.

But we pray – we pray nonetheless.
We come and lay before God the utmost desires of our hearts.
We dare to believe.
We follow Hannah’s lead, entering the tabernacle

Trusting that God can work the grandest of miracles
In our mundane lives and our human hesitancies.
We dare to believe – and not simply because
Hannah’s prayers were answered as she wanted.
We believe because they were answered
As God wanted.
A son, Samuel, born to her – and true to her word,
Dedicated to God’s service under Eli’s care.
Soon to be a prophet, a priest, a king-anointer,
Serving God’s people in their time of need.

We, the people of God, dare to believe as Hannah did,
That God can change this world.
We dare to believe:
That peace can find its way to places that have only known discord;
That our country’s leaders can somehow put aside partisanship
And work together for the common good – we dare to believe.
That we, all of us, despite efforts to convince us otherwise,
Really are more alike than different.                                                                                                                     

We dare to believe:
That God is not done with the church.
New chapters written, new opportunities unfold,
Motion propelling us to a new day – and rejoicing
When we find that God is there to greet us.

And we dare to believe:
That the darkness will never put out the light,
That love is always greater than fear,
That grace is a window, flung open wide,
Letting in the sun’s warmth and light.

We dare to believe, as Hannah did,
In the power and promise of silent prayers.
God’s grace, available for even the most skeptical,
God’s love, for even the most undeserving,
God’s promise, for even the meek and the mild.
Our silent prayers, a testimony to our faith,
Adoration to the most high God,
Who relishes in the joyful exercise
Of taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary.

We give thanks
For the power and the promise
Of Hannah’s silent prayer!

In the name of God the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!

 

* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.