A String of Hope

In 1886 G. Frederick Watts titled one of his paintings Hope. It was painted shortly after the death of his adopted daughter Blanche. In this painting a woman is depicted sitting on the top of the globe, plucking at a wooden lyre with her head leaning towards the instrument. At first glance it gives an impression that she is in an enviable position, sitting on the top of the world, playing lyre and enjoying the music. But when you look at the painting closely, the ILLUSION gives way to the REALITY. The woman in the painting is blindfolded (probably symbolising that the world around her is dark for her) and in tattered clothes, playing the lyre with all but one of its strings broken (probably symbolising the condition of her life). Her head is leaning towards the instrument so that she can hear the faint music she can make with the sole remaining string. Commenting on his painting Watts says, “Hope need not mean expectancy. It suggests here rather the music which can come from the remaining chord.” It is the ability of people, at their lowest point in life to sense and feel a strand, a single string of hope that gives them strength to move on even in the darkest hour of life.

Hannah in I Samuel 1.1-18 was like the woman in the painting. She was a wife of Elkanah. Her husband loved her. Whenever Elkanah, along with his family, went to Shiloh to worship and sacrifice to the Lord, he gave a double portion of the sacrifice to Hannah, “because he loved her”. He loved her more than his other wife Peninnah and her children. In fact it was his love towards Hannah that caused Peninnah to be jealous of her.

Elkanah loved her “though the Lord had closed her womb” (I Sam. 1. 6). In that culture a woman, who was barren, was looked down. Such women did not have respect both in their families and society. But Elkanah loved her, although she was barren. For him the “baggage” she carried was immaterial. He loved her as she was.

Elkanah was also an understanding person (1.8). He was there whenever she was down. He consoled her and comforted her whenever she was sad.

People in the society must have known about Elkanah’s love towards Hannah. Most of them must have thought that she was lucky and blessed. Her husband loved her. Hannah’s position seemed enviable. Outwardly she looked as if she was sitting on the top of the world.

When we look from a distance at some people, families and countries, it gives an illusion that they are happy, comfortable and peaceful. They wear designer clothes, drive latest model vehicle, live in a posh locality, a well paid job, a rich family. We think they have everything. On the outside they give an illusion of being on the top of the world.

This is the illusion Hannah’s life gives to the outside society. But this illusion gives way to the reality when we look at her life closely.

 

The Reality of Hannah’s Life

  1. Most probably, the attention of Elkanah to Hannah caused Peninnah to be angry and jealous. When jealousy gets hold of us, we can’t let it go because it won’t let us go. A jealous person tries to make the life of the other miserable by hitting at the areas where it hurts the most. Peninnah knew her target area. Every year when they went to Shiloh to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord, Peninnah constantly stayed on her, hurting her, making her cry and taking her appetite away, because the Lord did not give her a child (1.6-8).
  2. Then there is the pain of a barren woman. The story of women in those days (even today) with no children was a story of deep sorrow and despair. Her respectability was tattered and torn. Hannah was “deeply distressed” and “wept bitterly” (1.10). She confessed that she was “deeply troubled” and in “great anxiety and vexation” (1.15-16).

Hannah was deeply hurt and in pain. Outsiders could not see that pain and sorrow. This deep pain and sorrow made her vexed with life. Moreover, her heart was bruised and bleeding with constant attacks of a jealous woman. This had affected her psyche, which was visible in her crying, refusing to eat anything. She was deeply hurt.

When we look at Hannah’s life closely she was in a living hell. What looked like heaven, the illusion of having everything, the illusion of sitting on top of the world, was actually existing in a quiet hell.

Deep distress, sorrow, anxiety and vexation lead a person, usually, into depression and isolation. At times they may also be symptoms of depression. Remember Elijah in I Kings 19.4: “He went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now O Lord, take away my life.” He did not eat. These are the signs of depression. It drives us into isolation and death.

However, in the case of Hannah, she found the single string that was not broken, that is, her relationship with God. She was definitely alone. But alone with God. Because she did not lose hope.

Notice what she did before God: she wept bitterly and confessed that she was in distress (1.11); she “poured out her soul before the Lord” (1.15); she spoke out her “great anxiety and vexation” (1.16). That means, she was honest before God. She just poured out before God what she had on her mind and heart. Expression of our feelings, emotions, doubts, questions and hurts before God and a trusted person is not unspiritual.

The other thing which Hannah did was she cried bitterly before God. That means she had pent up emotions/feelings. She did not have a let out. She did not have a window to vent out her feelings and emotions. We usually let out our deep emotions/feelings before a person, whom we trust and who loves and cares for us. This is what Hannah did. Because Hannah trusted God and believed that God loved her and cared for her, she let out her emotions/feelings. When we vent out our emotions/feelings, it will have a therapeutic effect on us. It lightens our heart and mind.

Notice the change in Hannah’s appearance: “Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer” (1.18).

In her darkest hour of life, Hannah had the ability to sense and feel the sole string that was intact. In her deep distress and sorrow, she found that one string of hope, i.e. God. Hannah had a strong relationship with God. Though she was barren in her womb, she was fertile in her relationship with God. Year after year when they went to the Lord’s temple in Shiloh, she kept on praying, although there was no visible sign of change in her condition. She prayed so fervently that Eli thought she must be drunk.

It is very easy to hope in God when there is evidence of God’s goodness all around us. But it is difficult to hope when the love of God is not plainly evident, or there is absence of God. There is a documentary titled The Day My God Died. This documentary presents the stories of young girls whose lives have been crushed by child sex trade. They describe the day they were abducted from their village and sold into sexual servitude in Mumbai, shattering their dreams and hopes, as The Day My God Died. These children are “the commodity consumed by the voracious and sophisticated international sex trade. Recruiters capture them, smugglers transport them, brothel owners enslave them, corrupt police betray them and consumers rape them and infect them. Every person in the chain profits except for the girls, who pay price with their lives.”

In a situation where there is no visible evidence of God’s love, care and presence, it requires courage, audacity to trust God, to hope in God.

There is an African American Spiritual titled “Over my head”. African American Spirituals were originated in the American South. These were created by mostly slaves whose names history never recorded. These were sung by slaves during their work in fields, factories etc. The theology conveyed in these songs is a powerful mix of African spirituality, Biblical narrative, an extreme human suffering, and hope. These were written in extreme pain and suffering. In the midst of that they express Hope in God.

Refrain:

Over my head, I hear music in the air;

Over my head, I hear music in the air;

Over my head, I hear music in the air;

 

  1. Leader: oh, when the world is silent,

People: Hmm, I hear music in the air;

Leader: oh, when the world is silent,

People: Hmm, I hear music in the air;

Leader: oh, when the world is silent,

People: Hmm, I hear music in the air;

 

All: There must be a God somewhere.

 

Refrain

Over my head, I hear music in the air;

Over my head, I hear music in the air;

Over my head, I hear music in the air;

 

  1. Leader: And when I’m feeling lonely,

People: Hmm, I hear music in the air;

Leader: And when I’m feeling lonely,

People: Hmm, I hear music in the air;

Leader: And when I’m feeling lonely,

People: Hmm, I hear music in the air;

 

All: There must be a God somewhere

 

Refrain

Over my head, I hear music in the air;

Over my head, I hear music in the air;

Over my head, I hear music in the air;

 

Even when the world remains a mute spectator to our hurts, sufferings, pain, agony and cry, and we feel lonely in the valley of the shadow of death, we can still hear the music from the divine musician!

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