This week’s Lectionary reading brings us to the story of Hannah in the book of 1 Samuel. Hannah’s culture has taught her that to be worthy as a woman she must behave appropriately (1 Samuel 1:16), be wife to a decent man, and bear male children. Sons. Sons are the pinnacle of womanly accomplishment and worth in this context. Hannah has everything else: a husband who loves and prefers her over his other wife, a household, social status, food on the table. But she has no son, a situation she mourns bitterly. And, even worse, her husband’s other wife rubs it in her face all the time. Rivalry and jealousy between these women makes the pain of her barrenness even worse. We can imagine her home being fairly toxic on the inside, despite appearing prosperous on the outside.
So Hannah regularly pleads with God to give her this thing, this one thing that she believes will complete her life and save her from worthlessness. She weeps and mourns bitterly before the Lord. So bitterly in fact that Eli the priest thinks for a moment that she has come into the temple drunk.
And God in God’s mercy capitulates. God gives her what she wants, the son she bargains and begs for, that she believes will fulfill her. Which is great! And a kid is a good thing to want! God is pretty nice like that, although that’s not everyone’s story. Plenty of people beg and plead for things (or babies) they want and never get them. Or they get them in ways they didn’t anticipate.
But here’s the secret: when we circle back around to the love and regard of God, the truth we’ll eventually find is that we already had what we needed. There’s nothing we have to do or have to make God love us. God’s love is before and behind everything; it’s the base-level assumption we can make. The abundance of love we get doesn’t depend upon our relationships with other people, or what we do, or how healthy we are, or what babies we have or don’t have.
All the ways society tries to sell us on the idea that we aren’t worthy as we are, we aren’t enough as we are, we aren’t pretty or thin enough, we aren’t rich or accomplished enough, we aren’t nice enough, we aren’t bold enough - it’s all rubbish. You’ve got exactly what you need to be loved and welcomed by God.
So, Hannah, we’re really glad you had Samuel - that turned out pretty well. But if you hadn’t, you’d still be worthy of a story.
God, our culture is always sending us messages
That say we aren’t enough.
Our economy is always trying to sell us something
That will make us worthy.
When the whole truth, and the whole message of Christ
Is that the Community of God is right here, right now,
And we have everything we need to live in it,
To be fulfilled by Love.
Yes, there are things we want to do and have in this life,
But none of them make us worthy of love.
Our dignity and belovedness are innate -
The love of God toward us is a given.
So much of the work we are here to do
Is to learn to notice love -
How it’s already abundant
Already the fabric of the universe
Our belovedness, and the resources that affords us
Are what we must wake up to,
So that we can silence the voices that shame and destroy,
And be a people who walk in love.
Through all the noise we hear the voice of God saying:
“You are loved.
You are love.