Hannah’s encounter with the priest Eli in the temple is not a high point of clergy sensitivity. Observing her fervent, but silent prayer as she pours out her heart to the Lord, Eli accuses her of being drunk. But Hannah speaks up for herself, and wins an ally in prayer:
Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.”
As hopeless and despairing as she felt, Hannah took her great anxiety to God, voicing her unhappiness, offering her deal, expressing her feelings. She is a model for us in how to pray – with abandon and candor, baring our hearts before the One who knows them better than we do. We don’t have to be polite with God, offering prayers with perfect grammar and syntax. We don’t have to use churchy language or flowery phrases. God wants us to be real, and to come close, to open ourselves to intimacy in the power of his Spirit.
Hannah’s prayer and Eli’s affirmation of it had a discernible effect on her emotional state. She came into a place of peace. The depression broke; she went home and ate, and shared intimacy with her husband. She had no guarantee that her prayer would be answered as she desired, beyond the prophetic words of the priest – it was an act of faith to believe him. She prayed frantically, and went forth faithfully, and in time she did receive the gift she so badly wanted.
What desires are wanting to burst forth from your heart? Prayer can be our last response in times of pain or crisis, but there is no downside to praying early and often, and even in public. Yes, being caught up in a spiritual state can cause us to appear inebriated – the same accusation was made of Jesus’ disciples on the Day of Pentecost – but when are unafraid to be our spiritual selves out in the world, we offer a model to others. We share the Good News that we don’t have to stay stuck in our sadness or rage, depression or trauma. We proclaim by our actions that we worship a God of love, a God of healing, a God who responds to our prayers in his perfect time and perfect will – and invites us to align our wills with his.