Hannah’s Prayer and Psalm 72

Friday, May 31, 2013 — Week of Proper 3, Year One

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/ for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer)

EITHER the readings for the Visitation, p. 997

Morning Prayer – Psalm 72 / 1 Samuel 1:1-20 / Hebrews 3:1-6

Evening Prayer – Psalms 146, 147 / Zechariah 2:10-13 / John 3:25-30

OR the readings for Friday of Proper 3, p. 968

Psalms 31 (morning) // 35 (evening)

Deuteronomy 5:1-22

2 Corinthians 4:1-12

Luke 16:10-17(18)

I used the readings for The Visitation.

There is something profound in the catharsis that Hannah experiences when she prays in 1 Samuel. She pours out her heart before God, presenting her pain and need with earnest energy. She is so engaged in her prayer that the priest Eli thinks she has been drinking. (Or maybe Eli had lost his ability to tell the difference between the holy and the profane.) When Hannah speaks of her “great anxiety and vexation” Eli answers, as is so easy for a priest to answer, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” (It sounds almost dismissive to my ears.)

But something profound has happened within Hannah. She has given her heartache to God, and rises anew. “Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.”

The facts and circumstances of her life have not changed perceptively. She still has no child; she is not pregnant. She is still living with her husband’s other wife who taunts her. She returns from her prayer to the same circumstances that she has lived with for so long. But everything has changed. She has given her distress to God, and her countenance is sad no longer. She is trusting, relaxed, and open. That night she conceives Samuel.

Over and over I have experienced the same thing in my life. When I pour out my “great anxiety and vexation” to God, giving and offering it with pleas for help, sometimes I can leave my prayer trusting, relaxed and open, with a countenance that is sad no longer. Those days tend to go better than others. And so often, new possibilities are conceived which directly address my worries and concerns. Even if the circumstances don’t change, I have changed. I am more able to be whole in their presence rather than be distressed.

That came to mind as I recalled the Psalm I had just read, Psalm 72. Psalm 72 is a prayer asking God to make the King a good one. It describes the kind of political leadership that I want for my nation. (I translate verses 10-11 a bit; they are triumphalistic verses about the other kings. I include among the “kings” the “multinationals” — the real powers in our day. “All political authorities and multinationals shall bow down before him, and all the powers do him service.”)

The prayer of Psalm 72 is a compelling one. Justice, righteousness, prosperity. Defending the needy, rescuing the poor, overcoming the oppressor. Peace. Abundance. And all the powers of politics and economy are bent toward these good ends. “He shall deliver the poor who cries out in distress, and the oppressed who has no helper. He shall have pity on the lowly and poor; he shall preserve the lives of the needy. …May there be abundance of grain on the earth.” This is the kind of government that I want; the kind of leadership that I yearn to support.

Our congregation will join many other churches soon in Bread for the World‘s annual Offering of Letters. We will write to our senators and congressman asking them to remember the poor as they make laws and create programs and budgets in Washington. We will ask them to let everyone have a place at the table as they pass the 2013 Farm Bill, which includes the provisions for SNAP (formerly food stamps) and for international food aid. Our letters will ask them to “have pity on the lowly and poor” and “preserve the lives of the needy,” especially our neighbors who live with food insecurity — mothers like Hannah who pray that their children will have food.

I’m going to re-pray Psalm 72, with Hannah’s sincerity.

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