pathways of prayer
Week 4 - The Sacramental path
For inasmuch as without you,
we are not able to please you,
mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit,
may in all things,
direct and rule our hearts,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Adapted from "The Book of Common Prayer"
'Sacrament' is simply a word for a place or time where God meets with his people. Of course God is present always and everywhere. Nevertheless God does seem to give us special moments when heaven breaks through to earth. It might be a moment of revelation in the middle of the city, or a breathtaking view on a country walk. It can happen in the silence of the Quaker meeting or the solemnity of the Mass. So the challenge of the sacramental path is two-fold: to recognise God's presence in our everyday lives; and to create a discipline of prayer and worship in which we open ourselves to meet with him.
- What helps you to pray? Are there any special places, sounds or ceremonies that help you to feel close to God?
This is the story of a family. The father is Elkanah, a generous and gentle man who sets an example to his family by taking them to worship God regularly at the temple. His first wife Peninnah has several children. But Elkanah's second wife Hannah is infertile. It's a cause of great sadness to Hannah and her husband. And (not surprisingly) there's an ongoing rift between the two wives. We're going to look at Hannah's story.
Read 1 Samuel 1:1-18
1 There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 2 He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.
3 Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the LORD Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the LORD. 4 Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the LORD had closed her womb. 6 And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. 7 This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. 8 Elkanah her husband would say to her, "Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don't you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?"
9 Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on a chair by the doorpost of the LORD's temple. 10 In bitterness of soul Hannah wept much and prayed to the LORD. 11 And she made a vow, saying, "O LORD Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the LORD for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head."
12 As she kept on praying to the LORD, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, "How long will you keep on getting drunk? Get rid of your wine."
15 "Not so, my lord," Hannah replied, "I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the LORD. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief."
17 Eli answered, "Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him."
18 She said, "May your servant find favour in your eyes." Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.
19 Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the LORD and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah lay with Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. 20 So in the course of time Hannah conceived and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, "Because I asked the LORD for him."
- How do you picture Hannah as she prays this prayer?
- Hannah's infertility made her desperately sad. What do you think helped her in her sadness? Why do you think she went to the temple?
- Hannah prayed in silence, but even her tears seem to be prayers. Can we learn anything from this story about the nature of Hannah's relationship with God?
- How do you think Hannah felt as she arrived at the temple (verse 7)? How do you think she felt as she left the temple (verse 19)? What made the difference?
- What do you think is meant by the phrase "the Lord remembered her" in verse 19? Had God forgotten Hannah?
- Hannah gave her problem to God in prayer, but that didn't mean it was resolved straight away. Are there unresolved problems or unanswered prayers in your life? Is it possible to give them to God and leave them in his care?
Hannah kept up a routine of praying and going to the temple even though her soul was bitter. In the routines of your day and your week, is there a time and place for prayer? If not, could you create one? Try to establish some 'sacramental' moments in your week. It is best to keep your plans small and manageable.
If you are using these studies in a group, you could agree a discipline of prayer together. For instance, you might agree to stop wherever you are at 12 noon each day and pray for two minutes. Or you might decide to break bread or attend Eucharist together before you meet next week.
Contact: BBC Radio 4 Sunday Worship
This material has been provided by BBC Radio 4 in collaboration with Churches Together in Britain and Ireland.
Text © BBC 2007. Web site © CTBI 2007.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. All rights reserved throughout the world. Used by permission of International Bible Society.
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