Making my way through the “histories” of the OT again. This morning – 1st Samuel. Samuel’s name means something like “heard of God”, sounding suspiciously similar to the Hebrew word for “hear”, Shama. His name is appropriate for so many reasons. He was conceived when YHWH “heard” the voice of his barren mother, Hannah. He first encounters YHWH while living in the temple as a servant to the priest Eli. He “hears” YHWH speak, but thinks it’s Eli, and so (in rapid response) rushes to Eli’s side. After several such episodes that night, Eli realizes that YHWH is talking to the lad, and so he says to the boy named “heard of God”, “The next time you hear the voice, say, ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (same word – Shama). Samuel does, and a great restoration for Israel is underway.
Shama… quite a powerful word. Pondering the text, it struck me that shama appears in two other pivotal episodes. First, shama inaugurates the Exodus:
23 During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard (SHAMA) their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them. (Ex 2:23-25)
Israel cries out in pain, and Yahweh hears. And a great deliverance begins.
Second, as Israel prepares to enter the Promised Land after 40 years of wandering:
4 Hear (SH’MA), O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deut 6:4-9)
“Hear”… “shema”… “listen”. This prayer, the great “Sh’ma”, of course, would have been taken upon the lips of ancient Jews daily in morning prayer, and in many places still is. That is to say, the “first word” of Israel’s life is … “listen.”
I am struck by this. It would seem that SHAMA is the very essence of God’s relationship with his people. He attunes his ear to them, hearing their cry, and responding with his swift love. They, in their best moments, attune their ears to Him, hearing his voice, and responding with their swift obedience and devotion. He listens. We listen. Sometimes in power. Often in silence. Always in love. The listening holds the world together.
To hear Yahweh’s voice is the great call of the Scriptures. Tragically, it is often the great failure of the people of God. “You have ears but do not hear..” the prophet said. So we pray, therefore, for ears that hear. And we train ourselves to be attentive, often in listening silence, to the “qol Adonai”, the voice of the Lord that shatters, blesses, makes, and re-makes the world… and even our very lives.
It is said that during an interview the great Mother Teresa once was asked whether she prayed. “Of course”, she responded. “Well, what do you say?” “Oh nothing,” she replied. Confused, the interviewer asked, “Well then what do you do?” Teresa answered simply, “I listen.” “Well when you listen what do you hear?” said the interviewer, now even more confused and intrigued. “Not much,” replied Teresa. “He is simply listening too.”
What a marvelous image. The Divine and human ear, attuned to one another in quiet attentiveness. The world would be remade if human beings understood this.
With that in mind, I leave you for the day with a prayer by Walter Brueggemann:
The idols have ears but do not hear; so unlike you, for all your hearing; so like us, ears that do not hear.
You have endlessly summoned us: shema, listen, listen up, pay attention, heed, obey, turn…
We mostly do not… in our narcissism, in our recalcitrance, in our departure from you.
So we pray for ears, open, unwaxed, attentive, circumcised.
Call us by name… so that we know.
Call us to you… so that we live.
Call us into the world… so that we care,
Call us to risk… so that we trust beyond ourselves.
You speak / we listen / and comes life, abundant, beyond all that we ask or think.
Our ears to hear your word of life.
May YHWH bless your ears to hear.