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When the book of Samuel opens, we meet Hannah, a childless woman who, more than anything else in the world, wants to have children. But not only is she unable to conceive, her husband has another wife who has no trouble in the baby-birthing category and who delights in rubbing Hannah’s face in it. (In the Bible, btw, polygamy never goes very well.)

One day, Hannah comes to the house of worship to pray, and her prayer hits such a pitch that the priest on duty thinks she’s drunk. He reams her for it. She sets him straight about a few things. The priest then blesses her by saying, “May the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob give you whatever you asked from him” (1 Samuel 1:17). When Hannah has a son, she names him Samuel (“heard by God”), no doubt with a giggle on her lips and a smile in her soul.

Not long after giving birth, Hannah drops off Samuel at the tabernacle to live and work with Eli, the priest, keeping her promise to give her son back to God. She sews clothes for her firstborn, stays in touch with him, but Samuel grows up a little bit like a monk. You’d think if anyone knew about anything God, it would be young Samuel, born and raised to be the religious conduit for a whole country.

“Now Samuel did not know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not been revealed to him” (1 Samuel 3:7). The implication seems to be that spending time inside a religious building does not make you a spiritual person any more than resting on a pond makes you a wood drake. For those interested, the rest of the chapter implies that few things can boost your spiritual perspicacity quicker than paying close attention. To everything. “Knowledge speaks. Wisdom listens.”

The Rev. Eugene Stockstill is pastor of Ebenezer United Methodist Church and Myrtle United Methodist Church in Union County.

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