“‘If it were up to me . . .’ and then the words pounds, desperate and hard, ‘I’d write this story differently.’ I regret the words as soon as they leave me. They seem so un-Christian, so unaccepting – so No, God! I wish I could take them back, comb out their tangled madness, dress them in their calm Sunday best. But there they are, released and naked, raw and real, stripped of any theological cliche, my exposed, serrated howl to the throne room.”
~Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, p. 14
How many desperate howls have there been throughout mankind’s sordid story? How many serrated cries have ascended to God’s throne room? I would venture to guess that more broken hallelujahs escape parched lips than perfect choruses of Handel’s Messiah.
Imagine Hannah . . .
Year after year my husband’s other wife is filled by another beautiful child, more proof of the favor resting on that woman and the curse blighting my own soul. My garments wrap around my curves in an unchanging pattern, while hers round over blessed belly. My eyes dim with grief uncomforted. The women at the well talk. “What could she have done to be so barren?” they whisper, as I adjust ceramic jar on hip.
“What could I have done?” I’ve asked myself that question over and over again, searching my soul for a reason for the Holy One’s anger.
Year after year the clan makes the journey to worship at the temple, kneel before sacred tent flaps, offer acrid burnt offerings, thank offerings, sin offerings. I’ve offered other pieces of myself – anger, despair, infertility, insecurities. Pouring myself out before a God that as of now has ignored my pitiful pleas, my bitter murmurings, my wild cries. I’m becoming a crazed woman.
I remember the days of gentle trust. The days of girlhood innocence and daydreams. A big family is what I wanted, planned on, felt assured of as I entered the home of Elkanah. I would cause my new husband to glow with pride, as he presented our firstborn son to the priest, cut the flesh of covenant, offered sacrifices on my behalf. Yet, year after year my arms have left the Ark of promise empty of hope . . . empty. The cycles of the moon go and come, marking no joyful seed of life awash in newness. The rhythm of disappointment beats a familiar tune in my weary heart. Rhythm of empty.
Passerbys stare at the drunk woman, kneeling before the tabernacle’s corded curtains. “What could she be thinking, intoxicated at this hour and raving here of all places?” they mutter ignorantly. Better misunderstanding, then them actually knowing what I do here. You’re not supposed to yell at the Almighty God. You’re not supposed to rebuke the One who brought us out of Egypt, blessed us with this land, gave us victory over our enemies. I wage a private war.
I remember curling up in my mother’s lap as a child, my small body snuggled in her gentle one. She would sing: “Your God is a God of strength. Your God is a God of compassion. Never will He leave you alone. Soon will He come to save you.” Over and over the chorus would lull me to sleep, wrap me in safety, assure me of grace. Her rough perfume – the smell of sheep and freshly baked bread – smelled to me of hope. It still does.
I find my lips humming the same ragged tune, as I wrap my body in sorrow before God’s Presence. “Remember, YAHWEH? Remember what You promised?” I’m lulled by gentle words winding themselves around my soul. Words of safety. Words of grace. Yet, today, broken cries mixed with unspoken agony emerge. Not what the Almighty deserves. “Why must I do this year after year, Most Holy One?”
The sunrise dawned pink and purple and blue this morning. Ever so perfect. I could smell the roasting flesh of early morning offerings ascending to Heaven. As I completed my morning routine outside our tent door, I let myself dream . . . maybe this would be the year I would be found with child, grow heavy with the Almighty’s favor. Maybe this year . . .
Now, dust from other eager travelers covers my robe and veil, as tears cake sand to my face and clasped hands. “Hear my cry, YAHWEH! Be near the brokenhearted! I will give back my hope if only You will first fill me with that promise! My son will be Yours if You will only deem fit to give him life in me! Is a baby too much to ask for?”
Wafts of sheep being led to the altar and freshly baked offering bread about to be presented to waiting priests fill my nose, immersing my senses in their fragrances. It smells of hope. It always has. Hints of my mother’s robe. Comfort of her safe lap. YAHWEH’s promises sung as lullaby. Maybe this year . . .
The Almighty didn’t punish Hannah for her serrated howls. And, His character never changes. He is the same God who heard and answered her pleas for His promise, her pleas for a baby. Her womb was filled with hope. As her prayers lingered in the air with the tabernacle hustle and bustle, so our cries waft to the throne room of the Almighty, the One who chooses to call us His children, promises us salvation, grant us grace.
Sing Yahweh’s promises as lullaby. Maybe this year . . .