For many years, my spiritual disciplines have included daily morning Bible reading, prayer, and journaling. As I have noted before, I love following Forward Day by Day, not always liking the particular writer, but liking very much the prayers in this little booklet, and the fact that the Daily Office Readings for both Year One and Two are listed at the bottom of each page–the Morning Psalms before the * (asterisk) and the Evening Psalms after the *.
This past Monday was “The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary,” which means that we remembered the visit Mary made to her cousin Elizabeth when both were pregnant–Elizabeth with John (the Baptist) and Mary with Jesus.
Sometimes the oddest things strike me while I am reading scripture. The gospel reading was the “predictable” Magnificat in Luke (Luke 1:39-57.)
But the Old Testament reading was 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Now in case you did not know this, this passage is “the Song of Hannah.” Hannah is unable to have children. So on a trip to the Temple, she prays and weeps bitterly. The prophet Samuel sees her praying–her lips moving in silent prayer–and he accuses her of being drunk. No, she is not drunk. She is distressed because she is BARREN–a situation which puts her on the edges of that ancient society. If you are dependent upon children to make sure the people of God continue, and to care for you in your old age, you are not welcome social company. In other words, in that culture, if you are barren, there must be something wrong with you. You must have sinned!
Hannah prays to the Lord, and promises God that if God will grant her a son, she will “loan him” to the Lord as long as he lives. In other words, once the child is weaned, he would go to Jerusalem to God’s Temple and serve under the priest’s care and direction. In fact, SAMUEL, the child’s name, literally means (in Hebrew), “name of God.”
In Hannah’s prayer (which is 1 Samuel 2:1-10 if you would care to look this up), she says “The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. he raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the LORD’S, and on them he has set the world.” If you think you might have seen some of these words before, you are right. “The Song of Hannah” is an ancient poem, from which “the Magnificat” of Mary was later composed.
You probably knew about Ken Follett’s novel Pillars of the Earth. But did you realize that it was a biblical reference? Of course the thought of God resting the earth on pillars is now laughable, with what we know about the earth, the galaxy and science. But in ancient times, the sky was thought to be a (literal) dome above a flat earth, which support was. . .pillars. Scripture has its own idiosyncrasies and elements of the context/time in which it was written. Yet I find it fascinating that human beings love good, rich poetry, and sometimes go back and “borrow” phrases and words for yet more good, rich poetry for their own time. So perhaps Ken Follett read this passage before he wrote his novel. Go read the two pieces of scripture I have referenced, and then look up the novel. Frankly, it has been some time since I read Follett’s novel, so I think I will do the same.
I wonder who are the pillars of the earth. Might the pillars be the love of God that sustains us? Comforts us? Challenges us? Nurtures us? Heals us? Are the pillars of the earth the poor, the ones who have no voice in our society, the ones who sleep in parks, in homeless shelters, on the streets of cities, the ones who sit lonely in assisted living places? If the pillars of the earth are the least likely ones to find in the halls of power, woe be to us if we depend on the empire for strength and support.
Just food for thought. . .