What I’m Thinking: Broad Heart

Hannah received a dearly desired response to her prayer. When she gave thanks, however, she barely mentioned her own reason to rejoice. She was able to see the circumstances of many more people than herself.

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the first and second chapters of First Samuel (1 Samuel 1:4-20, 2:1-10), those portions of them, at any rate, that make up the story of Hannah.

Hannah and Peninnah were married to Elkanah. Elkanah clearly favored Hannah because he would give her special treats at certain times of the year. Peninnah, however, was the one who had borne children. In those days, a woman’s value was very much tied to her ability to conceive and give birth.

I do not want to… I don’t want to give that notion any credence because it persists in these days. So I will note that Elkanah’s regard for Hannah was clearly for her qualities beyond her ability or lack thereof to conceive.

In that first chapter we get the story: how Hannah went to pray, how she was challenged by the priest at the shrine for praying silently (it was an unusual practice), and how God heard her prayer, intervened. She conceived and she bore a son, one that we would know by the name of Samuel.

It’s the second chapter, however, that really sings for me – quite literally. It’s the Song of Hannah. What’s remarkable about it is that although it is a song of thanksgiving, even a song of triumph, it is not a song of triumph over her rival Peninnah. It is not a song of triumph over those natural impediments towards conception. It’s a much broader song of praise. Listen for a moment:

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.

1 Samuel 2:4-5

Hannah’s song encompasses a much broader set of life circumstances than, indeed, her own story. She gave thanks for the reversals that came to people in much different conditions than her own. And that, I think, is one of the great benefits of the life of faith, is that when we open our hearts, we are able to demonstrate empathy and to appreciate the conditions of people who are not like ourselves. Even in the midst of our own trials and pains we can still look to others and understand and empathize and do something to change their suffering, their condition.

So whatever your place of pain might be, whether it be an inability to conceive, or whether you are laboring in poverty, or perhaps you lack the strength to accomplish some task that is before you: Know that you can also see and empathize with the sufferings of others, that God is present to reverse that which is so unjust in the world, and together, one and all, we can be a part of making that reversal happen, to raise up those who have been brought down, and fill the hungry with good things.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories What I'm Thinking | Tags: , , | Posted on November 8, 2021

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1 Comment

  1. by Janet

    On November 8, 2021

    Thank you for your commentary on Hannah’s story and it’s relevance to our daily lives. I am deeply moved. Hannah’s story reminds me that when in great pain, we turn to God for comfort and promise.

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