Hannah’s Prayer – Fr. Tom McKenna

by | Jan 19, 2016 | Formation, Reflections | 1 comment

mckenna-reflections-featured-facebookFr. Tom Mckenna offers this reflection on Hannah’s Prayer     (I Samuel 1:9-20)

In a talk on the spirituality of the Twelve Steps, the speaker told a story of a woman who was being swept along in a powerful ocean current. She was a swimmer and so at first wasn’t frightened, and a matter of fact kept thinking about how embarrassed it would be to call out for help and how awful she would look if she had to be dragged onto the beach. But as she got more tired, she got to thinking about “bigger issues,” like how long could she keep her head above water! Totally exhausted and nothing left inside, she gave up. And in a gesture of desperation and of handing herself over to the fates and to her God, she just threw her hands back over her head – and found herself floating. She was saved.

It was a story of someone coming to the end of what she could do for herself, giving herself over to something or someone one greater, and then being rescued.

And of course that’s the core of what recovering people do in their Twelve Steps: face the fact that things are beyond their control, and surrender to that greater reality. They admit their powerlessness, hand themselves over to that Higher Power, open up to the help of others, and then in turn go out and help other strugglers.

Such stories illuminate the prayer Hannah makes in the Book of Samuel (1: 9-20).  Not able to conceive and in fact mocked for that, she comes before her God and pleads, “Lord of hosts, look with pity upon the misery of your handmaid.” She does this not just with words, but with her whole body (moving her lips, praying silently). In this hands-thrown-up attitude, she moves beyond any anger against Eli and any who would judge her telling them, “I was only pouring out my troubles to the Lord. My actions here are coming out of where my heart is whether you read it rightly or not. My prayer has been prompted by my deep sorrow and misery.” And Eli’s chagrined response, “May the God of Israel grant you what you have asked him.”

Hers is one more prayer of handing-over to that Higher Power. It’s prayed from that surrendering stance of: beyond-my-control-and-into-Your-hands. It’s marked with a raw honesty and a dropping of pretense. It wedges open the blocked channels between people.

So much in the literature touches on this kind of praying,  John of the Cross’ Dark Night, Mother Theresa’s years of praying without consolation, Jesus’ handing Himself over in the Garden and on the cross.

It isn’t the only prayer stance, but it is indeed is a hallowed one — and one that comes to every person at one time or other. “I’m over my head, out beyond what I can hold together. But I hand it over, give myself into the hand of my loving Father. And I trust I’ll be rescued.”

The rest of Hannah’s prayer proclaims just that trust.

“The Lord puts to death and gives life;

He cast down to the nether world and raises up again.

He makes poor and he makes rich

He humbles, and he also exalts.”



1 Comment

  1. Nancy Burlage

    Thank you for this wonderful reflection. I’ll probably have this in my mind for a long time.