Monday, November 19, 2012

A Family We Can Relate To

My apologies!  I wrote this and thought it published on Friday, but due to a technology glitch it is not appearing until today!  So here are some thoughts around yesterday's lessons:

Our texts this week come from the first two chapters of the book of 1 Samuel:  1 Samuel 1:1-20, 24-28 and 2:1-10, which can be read here.

It is interesting to come to the story of Hannah at this point in the church year.  Odd, I guess, would be more accurate than interesting.  Here's a little lectionary lesson for you:  if we had stuck with the scriptural suggestions of the Revised Common Lectionary all year, our texts through the summer would have come almost exclusively from 1 and 2 Samuel.  We would have already met Samuel, Hannah's prayed for son; the first kings of Israel; and covered the arc of Israel's history through these two books.  So why wait and go back to the start of the story now?  Doesn't that seem a little out-of-order?

I seriously doubt that what I am about to point out is the reason we meet Hannah in late November, but I'll entertain the thought anyway:  maybe this story is one we need to read as the holidays approach.  Because, after all, it is at least in part a story about family dynamics, unfolding during an annual event where all the family was together in a way that highlighted differences and made tensions rise.  Sound familiar to anyone who is approaching holiday family time with a little fear and trepidation?  Every year, this family went through the same destructive cycle:  they'd go up to Shiloh, make the sacrifice, and while Peninnah and her children would receive a large portion of the sacrificial meat, Hannah--childless--would get only one portion, lost and neglected in the family shuffle.  Elkinah, her husband, tried to make her feel better by doubling up what she got--but it was still less than the rest of the family got, and furthermore only highlighted her isolation, her other-ness.  Then, she had to endure the mocking of Peninnah (who apparently was NOT a gracious "winner" in the family childbearing sweepstakes), the confusion of her self-centered husband who thought he should be enough for her, and the emptiness of her arms that reminds her of what she's never had.  In the end, Hannah storms away from the dinner table, refusing to eat.  Ever seen a family circus like this?

So, though I don't think this is what Hannah's story is about at its heart, I think at this time of year we can certainly use Hannah's story to consider how we interact with our families and friends in the coming days of gathering together--how we can be sensitive to the griefs people bear, to the differences in how our lives have turned out and how we view the world.  And, as Hannah slipped away to the sanctuary to fervently pray when she could not take it anymore, we can consider how God might be present as we gather with others, as we deal with those we are missing around the table, as we deal with those we cannot stand around the table.  How does God work through the petty dynamics and story of this one family to begin to bring about something that will transform not just this family story, so they don't repeat the same cycle year after year, but to reorient an entire nation's history? 

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