The following is a reflection on 1 Samuel 1:4-20 & 2:1-10, the Old Testament and Psalm Lessons for Proper 28B, according to the Revised Common Lectionary.
Twice in the Bible people who are praying are mistaken for being drunk. Hannah on the threshold of the Temple of Shiloh is praying for a son and is castigated by Eli. “Put away your wine,” he says. On the day of Pentecost the apostles are filled with the power of the holy spirit, and they begin to speak in many languages. Those around them marvel that at 9 o’clock in the morning they are already sloshed.
But, no, they are praying.
It does make you wonder what that kind of prayer looks like…was Hannah sitting there with a copy of The Book of Common Prayer opened up? Were the apostles singing polyphonic chant in many languages?
Down cast eyes? Solemn faces? Lips pursed?
I don’t know about you, but my mental images of prayer don’t conjure up anything that even remotely resembles drunkenness. Nor do my mental images of public drunkenness resemble something that looks like prayer.
But, my guess is that the problem here isn’t my understanding of drunkenness, but rather prayer.
We too often make prayer to be something that is dour and zapped of power and thrill. Ask someone to offer the prayer before a meal, and all of a sudden the room gets quiet, people who are laughing and talking are shot looks that could kill, and out-of-the-blue people start talking in broken Elizabethan English.
Gaylord Focker’s prayer isn’t hilarious because it’s outlandish, but because it strikes a chord. We make prayer out to be something that’s awkward and forced. Somber and lifeless.
But, not Hannah.
Hannah is praying for a child. She’s praying from the very depths of her longing. Standing there only steps away from the Ark of the Covenant was no time for thee’s and thou’s. No time for stilted awkwardness, and fake formality.
“And we thank you oh, sweet, sweet Lord of hosts for the…smorgasbord you have so aptly lain at our table this day, each day. Day by day, by day…” Yeesh.
No, she was pouring out her very soul. Her heart. She was communicating to a God she knew and loved. And, she was bearing a heavy burden, and she was unloading that burden on her Lord.
And, you know what? When you communicate with someone that you know and love, you do so with exuberance and passion. Pet names and knowing glances. With tears of joy and tears of loss.
Given the right circumstances, sometimes you might even look drunk.
Because a the relationship that we’re offered with God is a real one. A genuine relationship. The God who made the heavens and the earth wants to know us, and wants us to know him. And when we’re excited we’re to gush out like Hannah breaking out into song. And when things are falling apart, we’re to gush out like Hannah at Shiloh.
In short: lose the grim and stilted faces. Find ways for your posture of prayer to look more like a party in which God was invited.