1 Samuel 3:1- 20 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” [Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”
Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”
As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.
Reflection “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.” How many of us could actually say that without crossing our eyes and wanting to hide? Do we really want to hear the Word God speaking to us? Do we really want to hear what the Word God might have to say to us regarding our priorities, ethical dilemmas, relationships and life choices?
Do we want to take the chance that, like Samuel, what we hear might be very hard to live into or pass on? In any case, how do we know if we are listening to the Word God and not the internalized voice of our culture, upbringing or our imagination?
Assuming we do want to hear the Word God, let’ s consider the last question, “How do we know what we think we hear is the Word God?” A couple of clues are nestled in the wisdom tale of Samuel and Eli. First of all, the boy Samuel, the listener, is not the one who identifies the voice of the Lord. It is the wise old man Eli who “perceived that the Lord was calling the boy.”
- Affirmation that we are hearing the Word God generally comes through other people, particularly those who have devoted their lives to listening for God.
- Even the duly wizened, such as Eli, do not immediately presume the Word God has spoken. It is not until the Lord’s invocation to Samuel is repeated three times that Eli counsels Samuel to listen for the Lord. If it is the Word God, we will hear it repeatedly.
- As was the case with Samuel, sometimes what we hear in not easy to swallow and even more difficult to pass on. Samuel had to stretch, put his faith in the Word God with him rather than in his human mentor Eli. There comes a time when each of us must quit second guessing and privilege the Truth of the Word that rises from within us.
- Finally, if we want to hear the Word God, we must listen. Like Eli we must incline ourselves toward God; body, mind and spirit. Like Samuel we must orient ourselves toward God and listen. But we do not have to be priests, prophets or special holy people. All we need add to our ordinary lives is a practice of holy listening, meditation, centering prayer or even ballet because this kind of discipline contributes to the cultivation of wisdom which enables us to see past the external appearance of things and make good judgments. (See Meditation and Ballet Associated with Wisdom*) Eli, a high priest and a prophet, was able to discern the call of the Lord because throughout his life he consciously and conscientiously directed his attention toward God. Samuel redirected his attention away from his mentor and toward God - and heard the Word God. We can do so as well, if only we will practice listening.
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