A Voice in the Darkness

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The LORD called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. The LORD called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, `Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.  And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.  1 Sam. 3: 1-10; 19-21.

I have a theory.  My theory is this:  with surprising regularity, things tend to end much as they began.  In many respects, the story of the prophet Samuel seems to validate that notion.

Now, the prophet Samuel began his ministry during the first generation of Israel’s monarchy.  You’ll remember the story that Samuel’s mother (Hannah) was presumed to be barren.  Hannah begged God for a child, promising that if God would give her a son, she would offer the child as a Nazarite (who would not drink wine or strong drink nor shave his head).  Eli, the priest at the holy place of Shilo,  assured Hannah that she would have a son.

Once Hanna weened Samuel, she presented him at Shilo.  In a song remarkably similar to the Magnificat, Hannah sang that God had broken the bows of the mighty, raised the poor up from the dust, and seated the needy with princes.  It’s a striking song, full of political radicalism and foreshadowing Jesus’ promise that the first will be last and the last will be first.

That same notion will run throughout Samuel’s ministry.  Samuel would eventually turn his prophetic vision to Eli the priest.   Eli failed to restrain his sons who abused their power and blasphemed by eating the choice cuts of the sacrificial animals.  1 Sam. 2:12-17.  Similarly, Samuel warned the people of Israel against kings who would abuse their power and take advantage of the vulnerable.  Now, that’s a very old story:  the poor and the powerless suffer under the appetites of the strong.  Samuel would ultimately give voice to God’s conclusion that King Saul’s reign has come to an end. God thus instructed Samuel to anoint David as the King of Israel.

I wonder whether we again live in days “when the word of the Lord is rare.” How do we confront those two twin tremendous mysteries, the silence of God and the voice of God?  Maybe God’s silence arises from our regular failure to ask him for guidance, or our failure to listen when He does speak.  For many of us, like Samuel, we’re not exactly sure when we’re hearing the Lord’s voice, and we certainly know that the news will not always be popular.  As was the case with Samuel, once we’ve identified the voice of the Lord, there’s no guarantee anyone else will be receptive, or even interested.

Despite that, I always smile a bit and find great comfort  when the Lectionary rolls around to this reading. I smile because when I was a child, my parish priest told me that this was a story about what happens to little boys who fall asleep in church.  I find comfort because God calls to Samuel again and again throughout that night.  Regardless of our confusion, God can be remarkably persistent.  He can, in fact, hound us repeatedly while we’re trying to sleep.  God’s word has a remarkable capacity to interrupt and disturb us when we’re trying to do something else. I pray that you’ll listen for that voice, and that I will also.

Shabbat shalom,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

22 responses to “A Voice in the Darkness

  1. apocalypseicons

    So true, as always, Br James. It is fear of others that stop us from listening, seeing and acting on the Word of God. I must be particularly obtuse and stubborn as it took a very, very serious problem with my youngest daughter to make me stop and follow the path He had asked me to, many years previously. But like the parable of the weeds, I was too worried about meeting the concerns and requirements of daily living in this world and not faithful enough to know that Jesus would make sure I have everything I need. Now it is nothing short of miraculous how things work out so incredibly but I still feel my faith is sadly lacking. However, it seems that these things are life long struggles for everyone.

    • Constantina,

      I agree; fear is responsible for most of the serious mistakes I’ve made in my life. I would like to suggest another parable, however, rather than the parable of the weeds. In the parable of the Prodigal Son, we find one of my favorite lines of Scripture: “And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming up the road and ran out to meet him.” I think he’s always looking for us, and ready to run out to meet us.

      Pax,

      Br. James

      • apocalypseicons

        Yes I always far too hard on myself, dear astute brother. Thank you I am cheered by this reminder.

  2. Thank you for sharing your viewpoint on one of my favorite readings.

  3. You make me smile. Br. James.

  4. I wonder whether we again live in days “when the word of the Lord is rare.” How do we confront those two twin tremendous mysteries, the silence of God and the voice of God? Maybe God’s silence arises from our regular failure to ask him for guidance, or our failure to listen when He does speak. For many of us, like Samuel, we’re not exactly sure when we’re hearing the Lord’s voice, and we certainly know that the news will not always be popular. As was the case with Samuel, once we’ve identified the voice of the Lord, there’s no guarantee anyone else will be receptive, or even interested.

  5. As I looked into this text, I was struck by God’s persistence. Generally, in our economy, when we turn down or ignore a job, someone else gets it. God operates differently. The story of Samuel’s birth illumines God’s persistent intention to create each of us uniquely and purposefully. It seems that in God’s economy, the task that God calls us to is our own. There’s no competition. God doesn’t say, “Well, I’ll just find someone else!” God just keeps on calling–but, of course, we often don’t hear it, or ignore it, or mistake the identity, or just flat-out say no. Sometimes we say yes, and then don’t ask for help in understanding what it means. But when we finally find our way through the tangles to say, “Your servant is listening, Lord,” the Voice is still ready and waiting for us.

    • Lera,

      I think it’s very difficult for many of us to imagine that sort of persistence, to imagine a voice that doesn’t get it’s feelings hurt, that’s perpetually willing and even anxious to engage us in all times and all circumstances. That seems to be the nature of Samuel’s call, and I’m inclined to think it’s not as unique as we might think at first.

      May the Lord bless you and keep you,

      James

    • Lera
      I don’t know you but I do like your reply! God is persistent! Bless him!

  6. Thank you, Susan.

  7. Br. James,

    “For many of us, like Samuel, we’re not exactly sure when we’re hearing the Lord’s voice.”

    I agree and as I read this, I thought of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. One of them advises that by creating so much noise, Wormwood can turn his target away from God because the target cannot hear God’s voice.

    For me, the noise CS Lewis wrote about in the 1940s is both literal and figurative. In 2012, literal noise is the constant din of technology and figurative noise is (as pointed out above) emotional blocks between God and I such as fear or my own ego.

    In my life, I experience God’s voice through the words (and writing) of others and in the silence of my heart. Writer Matthew Kelly suggests that 10 minutes of silence a day (not in prayer) is a way to cut out the noise. I just read this suggestion this weekend and want to try it out this week.

    Have a good week!

    • Jeffery,

      I would be most interested in your experience of the practice of silence. Silencing one’s thoughts is a more difficult discipline than it seems like it might be at first.

      Pax, my friend,

      Br. James

  8. Word of the Lord welcome here, any time now God!

    Thanks for a splendid post and for permission to fall asleep in church 🙂

    • Jodi,

      Waiting on the Word is a challenging task, isn’t it? And it so often comes when we’re busy with something else (trying to get some sleep for instance). Regarding sleeping in church, we’ll just keep that between ourselves, won’t we?

      Enjoy the wonder!

      Br. James

  9. I completely agree: “God’s word has a remarkable capacity to interrupt and disturb us when we’re trying to do something else.”

    I have always liked this passage about Samuel and Eli. Samuel is one of my favorite names.

    • Nalene,

      As you know, I was busy “doing other stuff” until I was interrupted a few years ago. Sometimes, the Good Lord drags me, kicking and screaming. I suppose that’s just His way.

      Peace to you,

      Br. James

  10. I think that we often miss God’s voice because He is speaking what we do not expect him to. From the very beginning of the New Testament, when Matthew includes Tamar, Ruth, Rahab and Bathsheda in the genealogy of Christ our expectations are turned upside down and God speaks a very different message about His ways and His agenda which are certainly not like ours.

    • Maria,

      I think you’re precisely right. We often miss God’s presence because we are not expecting anything close to awe or wonder. We’re expecting “more of the same”, when we’re offered something full of awe and wonder.

      God’s great peace,

      Br. James

  11. Well said. I enjoyed reading your blog entries. It is always a challenge to try to recognize the voice of God, but I believe His Will is in His Word. All we have to do is read the Bible and His voice is clear. I also like your use of images. Blessings upon your ministry!

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