A reflection 1 Samuel 1:1-20 from the Propers for 28B by the Rev. Margaret Rose
As a feminist and practitioner of Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza’s hermeneutic of suspicion I read the Bible with a lens which often notes the absence of women. And when women are present and named I rejoice. Hannah’s well known story prompted me to name my older daughter Hannah, and through the years we often reminded her of this fact. We told the story of Hannah’s persistence, her desire, and especially of her song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10, the prototype for Mary’s Magnificat. We reveled in the news of Samuel’s birth and of the answered prayer.
But until a few years ago when I was writing daily devotions for a month of Forward Day by Day, I had not paid much attention to what surrounded the text. My lens was just a bit too short sighted and I did not notice the other characters or even the social context.. I did not hear the loving words of Hannah’s husband Elkanah who says to Hannah in the agony of her barrenness, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad?” I did not take note of the text which tells us that Elkanah gives a double portion of the sacrifice to Hannah “because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb.”
Filled with the pain of barrenness and the ridicule of a rival wife, Hannah is in misery. Steeped in the cultural norm which claims she is not worthy or whole unless she bears a son, she weeps and prays for deliverance. Her prayer is answered and we have remembered Hannah and Samuel through the ages.
But the real hero of the story is Elkanah, the husband whose words defy the very cultural norms that would exile Hannah from the social circle. Elkanah claims Hannah as whole and worthy, offering himself to her, proclaiming his care—in spite of what the culture might dictate. As I often lament the missing voices and history of women in the Biblical texts, here I want to lift up the courage of Elkanah, whose name is certainly not a household one, but whose actions were quite radical and without whom, the Biblical story would be quite different. I am grateful for Elkanah’s long ago witness and for the chance to tell his story.
In fact, I am thinking of starting the Elkanah Circle—good men who love women well and who have the strength to defy stereotypes and cultural norms to do so. This week I attended a panel discussion on Young Women and Violence hosted by the Wellesley Centers for Women. There were the horrifying statistics of young women raped and trafficked, the continued realization that domestic abuse is still rampant. We were reminded of the recent violence in Richmond, California on the grounds of a high school during a high school dance where a teenager was raped in full view of many. But the good news was the story of the number of men who are engaged in stopping this violence: 100 Black Men; Men Stopping Rape; and the groups of fathers and husbands and brothers who are engaged in changing the culture of bullying in schools and on playgrounds.
Elkanah-- and these men and so many others help me remember to use my glasses to see the whole picture-- to question my own assumptions, to look at all the characters of the story. Here of course, I have not dealt with the “rival wife”. And the Biblical scholars will surely remind me of much that I have neglected. But those questions are for other reflections. For now, thanksgiving goes to Elkanah for his respect, for his love and for his courage.
The Rev’d Margaret Rose
New York November 13, 2009