There are two times in the Bible that people who are praying are mistaken as being drunk. One is on the day of Pentecost when the apostles are filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and they begin to speak in other languages. Those around the apostles marveled that at 9 o’clock in the morning they were already sloshed. The other time is when Hannah is on the threshold of the Temple of Shiloh, praying for a son. The priest, Eli, accuses her of being drunk.
In either case, no one was drunk . . . they were praying. They were praying . . . praying in ways that most of us would probably not consider to be praying . . . drunkenness—maybe, prayer—no. But, they were praying. The problem is not in our understanding of drunkenness; our problem is with our understanding in prayer.
Too often we make prayer out to be something that is primp and proper. Something that is rote and routine. Something flowery and poetic. Something that sounds as if it is straight out of the King James Version of the Bible. Prayer is something that should be taken seriously . . . taken with reverence . . . it should not be something that resembles drunkenness.
Hannah is praying . . . she is praying with all of her heart and soul . . . she is laying it on the line . . . she is not holding back. Her lips are moving, the tears are flowing . . . the anguish is being expressed. Observing this, the priest Eli assumes that she is drunk and admonishes her to knock it off.
But she can’t . . . the prayer she shares pours out from the depths of her soul and her pain. “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying her out of great anguish and grief.”
Many times I have shared M. Scott Peck’s words from the beginning of his book, The Road Less Traveled: “Life is difficult . . . the sooner we accept it, the easier it gets.” As a psychiatrist and counselor, Peck knows what he is talking about. And, we know what he is talking about . . . life is difficult . . . life is hard. We know and we know because of experience. No one ever promised any of us that life would be easy, and we can all attest to that fact thanks to the many years we have all lived.
Hannah would vouch for the difficulty of life.
Hannah is one of two wives of Elkanah. Elkanah is a man of prestige . . . he is from a distinguished family in the community . . . he a man of some means . . . as seen from the fact that he has two wives. One wife, Peninah, was fairly prolific in bearing children, and she had several children in her relationship with Elkanah—including a couple of sons. The other wife, Hannah, was barren . . . she had difficulty is conceiving any child, much less a son, in her relationship with Elkanah.
Being barren is not good in the time and place that this story takes place. Being barren is a sign of disgrace . . . a sign of sinfulness, and Hannah lived under a cloud of shame. Those around her probably wondered what she had done to deserve such a punishment . . . even the other wife of Elkanah wonders. Peninah does not miss any opportunity in which she can remind Hannah of her barrenness and lower place in the marriage, family, and community. Peninah makes Hannah’s life miserable. Not quite the idyllic life one wants.
Having brought no children into the relationship—in particular, no sons—Hannah had another problem with life. As we all know, even in the biblical times, children represent the future . . . represented life beyond the present generation. Having no children—especially sons, was a problem. Hannah’s future was up in the air. If her husband died suddenly she would have nothing. Having no sons, Hannah would find herself out on the street . . . homeless and poor. This was because women did not inherit anything, only the sons could inherit . . . and, in this case, only the sons that Peninah had with Elkanah. Seeing how the relationship between Hannah and Peninah was not a good one, I doubt if she could rely upon the mercy of those boys to keep her off the street. Hannah was up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
Again, not quite the life anyone would want. If you would ask Hannah about her life, she would probably tell you that it sucked. No children. No future. No hope. It looked pretty bleak. It was hard . . . it was difficult . . . and, it sucked. In the story I imagine that the snippet we are witness to is the end of the rope for Hannah . . . she was tired . . . she was scared . . . and, she could not take it anymore . . .
. . . and it all comes pouring out as she is sitting outside of the Temple of Shiloh. A heart-wrenching, straight from the depths on one’s pain and suffering, prayer. It ain’t pretty.
Life isn’t always pretty.
What are any of us to do when we get to the end of our ropes? What are any of us supposed to do when we are finally tired of being beaten down by life? Where do we go? Who do we turn to? What do we do when we are sick and tired of being sick and tired?
I think we pray. I think we pray from the depths of our souls . . . from the depths of our pain . . . from the depths of our grief . . . from that small place in which we can no longer tolerate the misery of it all. We pray . . . not in fancy, poetic language, but in gritty, down-to-earth words that say it all bluntly and with deep emotion. We lay it on the line . . . tears and all . . . gnashing of the teeth. We let loose. We pray in a way that most people will think that we are either drunk or crazy . . . but, we pray. We pray honestly and openly.
And, we pray to a God who listens. A God who wants a genuine relationship with us . . . a relationship that is open and honest . . . one in which no topic, no emotion, no feelings is taboo. A God who wants us to unload it all . . . the good, the bad . . . the pretty and the ugly. We pray to a God who wants a genuine, intimate relationship that leaves no part of who we are closed off from the one who loves us. And, surprisingly, that prayer is not always pretty . . . nor is it what we or others expect.
Yet, God listens.
Hannah’s lot in life is not pretty. It is a complicated story and position in life . . . enmeshed in an unjust system that seems to be working against at every turn as she strives and hopes for a better, more abundant life . . . she is taunted and belittled by her co-wife . . . a naïve husband who loves her, but has no idea how to help her . . . and an accusing priest who declares her drunk. With nowhere to turn, she turns to God.
In her reaching out for help . . . in her desperate prayer . . . she tells her story. As the priest, Eli, listens to her story he understands Hannah’s need for assurance . . . her need to be heard . . . not so much by him, but the God she is praying to. In the end he blesses her: “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”
From there the story follows the pattern we might expect—Hannah goes home, has a child, dedicates him to the service of the Lord, and lives happily ever after.
Oh, how we wish it were so simple . . . so easy. The fact is that it is rarely ever so simple or easy to climb out of the depths of our despair and grief . . . to climb out of the tiredness of life that weighs us down . . . to lift the burden of that weight off of our souls. So, all we can do is pray . . . pray those deep from the pits of our soul prayers . . . those prayers of tears and anger . . . those prayers of grief and anguish . . . those prayers that we have been taught to suppress because they are not the ways we should pray . . . those prayers of tiredness. We are to pray to God.
God will listen . . . but, more importantly, God will sit with us . . . never abandon us . . . and, God will wait. In the eye of the storm, this is the blessing. This is the gift. This is peace. Yeah, life is difficult, but God never abandons us no matter how far down we seem to fall. God is with us. Amen.