I’m thinking about Hannah today.
This is one story about a woman that does get quite a bit of play among LDS. Unfortunately, it is generally used solely as a ‘motherhood’ story. That’s fine, but there’s a lot of other things going on here. There’s a tight structure to the text:
A Hannah takes her sorrow to the Temple (1.10)
B Hannah makes a covenant (1.11)
C Hannah has a potentially contentious interaction with a male (1.12-16)
D Her desire is granted (1.17-20)
C’ Hannah has a potentially contentious interaction with a male (1.27-28)
B’ Hannah keeps her vow (1.27-28)
A’ Hannah takes her joy to the Temple (2.1-10)
You’ll note that the Temple binds and links the entire narrative; the extremes of her emotion find their place in the Temple. Still today people head to the Temple both in the pit of their sorrow and the fulness of their joy. Happily, Hannah’s progression is from sorrow to joy, and the Temple is a part of transforming her (and our) sorrows to joy. Her first trip to the Temple is interesting because of the problem that arises: Eli notices that she is praying aloud and confuses her for a drunk because vocal praying wasn’t the custom. There’s an obvious parallel to Joseph’s prayer here. Hannah has faith that God will hear her prayer.
Back to the structure: notice that the covenant (B and B’) is the intermediary link between the Temple (A and A’) and Hannah’s personal experiences (C, C’, and D). I’m not sure that I give enough thought to the role of covenants as covenants as opposed to the content of the covenants. I do know that covenants have power, and we see that in this story.
I read the C and C’ lines as a test of Hannah’s character, related to the vow that she has made. In both cases, she has an interaction with a male (the high priest, her husband) that could be contentious. How will she handle it? In both cases, Hannah passes the test: in the difficult situation, she is respectful, but firm. She states her position, stands by her position, but isn’t deceitful, passive-aggressive, etc. (You’ll notice that in both cases she gets what she wants ;) ).
And, in its rightful place as the center of the story, her desire is fulfilled. This is the part we usually focus on. This is the one section, however, that raises the most questions for me. Hannah’s experience of motherhood is so very different from mine; I can hardly imagine what it would be like to turn my first born son over to temple workers (unrighteous male ones, at that) to raise when I weaned him (one note: this was probably at age 4-7). To me, consecrating my children to the Lord (the highest definition, in my opinion, of motherhood) means something very, very different than it did to Hannah. What did motherhood mean to Hannah? Can I appropriate that? Should I appropriate that?
A few other thoughts:
(1) 1 Samuel 1:8 is a gem. Not only does Elkanah see that his marriage has value to himself and to Hannah independent of her childrearing capacities, but he is willing to meet her emotional needs by trying to comfort her. We usually focus on what a super mom Samuel had; his dad wasn’t too bad, either.
(2) 1:10 is powerful. I get a little weary of sanitized, happy-faced stories. I appreciate the depth of human emotion in this passage.
(3) I can only imagine Hannah’s feelings at turning her son over; I imagine she had a hint that all was not well in Zion, based on her previous experience with Eli (1:14), but could she anticipate what would be revealed in 2:12? She displayed powerful faith by keeping her covenant. I know that I would have been sorely tempted to plead that I didn’t know Eli’s house was fallen as an excuse to break my covenant. But Hannah didn’t.
(4) 1:22-24 suggest the importance of the breastfeeding relationship between mother and son. (This image is frequently used in the scriptures.) Was this just a convenient time marker for Hannah, a logical time at which to send her son to the temple, or is their some other significance here?
(5) Hannah’s praise song in chapter 2 fits into a long tradition (from Miriam to Mary, also Deborah) of women’s songs recorded in the scriptures. Her themes are similar to theirs: the idea of the power of the Lord and the Lord’s control over the reversals of fortune that will eventually ‘raise up the poor.’
(6) Read Acts 2. I believe that Hannah is a type for Peter’s role on the day of Pentecost. You’ll notice that he, too, is wrongfully accused of public drunkeness when he is in fact having a spiritual experience with some similarities to Hannah’s. His quotation of Joel 2:28 (“your daughters shall prophesy”) completes the circle to Hannah’s praise song.
I love this story.