Vallombrosa 300x100 12.2017

Romantic and realistic views of responding to God

January 11, 2018
Sister Eloise Rosenblatt, RSM

We can romanticize the response of Samuel. He hears a call in the night and responds, “Here I am.” The standard spiritual reflection is, “How can I respond to the call of God? How can I be obedient like Samuel?”

If we review the first part of the Samuel story, two chapters earlier, the picture is less romantic. Hannah, Samuel’s mother, was once humiliated by Eli the priest for appearing like a drunken woman in the Temple as she prayed for a child. She did get pregnant. After her son was weaned, she presented him to Eli and dedicated him to God. The sons of Eli turn out to be predators, sexually assaulting women who come to the Temple. It’s a public scandal. Poor little Samuel, with all this swirling around him.

He’s dedicated to God, without knowing what that means. I imagine him living a dark night experience. He’s got no mom around. Eli is not his dad, but his feeble, aging mentor who is shamed by his own sons’ behavior. Samuel is living in an odd place, not a home or family setting. His mom and dad come to offer sacrifices at the Temple regularly, and see their little boy. But wouldn’t he wonder why his mom doesn’t want to stay with him? Why can’t he go home with his dad?

It’s in the midst of these feelings that the Lord calls out to Samuel, who is “not familiar with the Lord, because the Lord had not revealed anything to him as yet.” What spiritual confusion this child suffers! He must feel that he doesn’t belong to anyone and no one loves him. He is powerless, living in the shadow of shame, ignorant, and cast off, plunged into depression.

This is the context in which Samuel is called to his vocation, to walk closely with God, to redeem corruption in the Temple, to be the servant of God who anoints David as king. But what a torturous beginning of a difficult life. The lesson of Samuel can be read as a magical moment of being called by God. He gives the ideal answer, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” Or, Samuel’s experience of his vocation can be read within the larger narrative in Scripture. His nuclear family relationships are disconnected. His future tasks cannot be foreseen. His path is unpredictable. That prayer as a child must have been his lifelong prayer in the middle of many dark nights: “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

John’s Gospel features several men responding to Jesus: John the Baptist points out the “Lamb of God” to Andrew and a friend, and Andrew goes to tell his brother Simon Peter. Again, we can read this as a mystical, serene scene in which the men spontaneously take the Baptist’s advice to ask the Rabbi where he is staying. They follow after Jesus when he says, “Come and you will see.”

What lies behind this scene is likely a long process of men “changing careers.” “We have found the Messiah” is a recognition that most likely took a long time. We know Peter had a wife, because he had a mother-in-law, whom he restores to health in the synoptic Gospels. Did Andrew and the other disciples have wives and families? What was the reaction of mothers, wives, sisters and daughters to the career change of their husbands, fathers, brothers, sons? They could not escape the risk and changes of the men in their lives. Where did financial support come from?

An annunciation, an invitation from God, can happen in the middle of the night or at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Our own response to God implicates our family members and friends. We are not lonely men or women of faith. It can shake our relationships and redesign our prior careers. The importance of my work may not be clear either to me or to others right now. But there is, in Scripture, always a future that will be opened by God as we ask, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” And there is a future in the company of Jesus as we wordlessly follow his invitation, “Come and you will see.”

Rosenblatt, RSM _Sr. Eloise - web 100x125Mercy Sister Eloise Rosenblatt is a Ph.D. theologian and family law attorney in private practice. She lives in San Jose.

Irish Help at Home flattened
McCoy's Flattened
Arch SF Development Alternate
Pontifical Mission Society - 230x100
St. Anthony's Foundation - 230x100

Catholic San Francisco
One Peter Yorke Way, San Francisco, CA 94109
Phone: 415-614-5639    Fax: 415-614-5641
E-Mail Us