You’re in a crowd, ambling along, somewhere, anywhere; on a beach, at a concert, an open-air food market, our Laurens town square. You hear a voice calling your name. Turning around, you see a familiar face, perhaps unexpected, out of place, but, nevertheless someone you know. Or you see no one you know. You were mistaken. Or you see one who has called another who, coincidently, bears your name, thus, one who was not calling you.
Ever had such an experience? One? Two? All three? I have.
I’ve also had moments amidst the shadowy world of dreams when I heard a voice calling my name. So real, it seemed, I awoke only to stare blankly into the darkness. At other times, I’ve had visions, what I call “waking dreams.” I was alert, conscious of the world around me and I heard a voice or I had a suddenly dawning new thought. Either way, I sensed that a message was being given to me; usually about a vexing question or concern that long had evaded my efforts at resolution.
Was it the voice of God, who, scripture tells me, oft speaks through the mediums of dreams and visions?(1)
Or the voice of my unconscious?
Or God speaking through my unconscious?
I don’t know. But hear it, I did. I’m sure of it.
Thus, I can and do identify with Samuel’s experience of hearing God’s voice calling his name.
In Samuel’s day, “The word of the Lord was rare…visions were not widespread.” It was as if God, in reaction, resentment of those who and turned from the divine way, had stopped speaking. So, when Samuel heard the urgent cry of his name, it had to be the voice his mentor, Eli.
He goes to Eli who, though wise, needed three times to discern the truth, thus, advising, “If (the Lord) calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’” (which is a more faithful and prudent response to God than “Listen, Lord, for your servant speaks!” But I digress!).
The Lord calls a fourth time, “Samuel! Samuel!”, delivering, much to his dismay, a terrible prophesy of condemnation against Eli and his sons.
Reflecting metaphorically on this story, I interpret Eli as a representative of the institution. Many institutions, whatever the field, government, education, religion, historically, have begun as movements, at times, in protest of the established status quo. O’er time, if the movement survives, it always is subject to the influence, the temptation of self-preservation. When that happens, the movement, becoming a part of the new status quo, can lose its original clarity and vigor, which, at best, are remembered as ideals. Samuel, I behold, as representative of the prophetic impulse; that constant summons to speak God’s word, God’s truth to power.
So, Jesus speaks a prophetic word to the representatives of organized religion, the Pharisees: “The Sabbath was made for humankind; not humankind for the Sabbath.”
Religious rules and regulations were made for us to teach us, to guide us, to serve us in aligning our lives with God; not given to us that we become their servants.
Religion, from the Latin religare,(2) meaning “to bind”, “to pull or hold together” is our servant, helping us to make sense of our existence, to understand life, to behold a true, truest vision of the world in which we live, the life we live, the life that has been bestowed as gift by God. A world, a life – speaking always and only for myself, in my view – of wondrous, sometimes perplexing variety, diversity, difference, and a world, a life of equality. For that is how God creates and sees us.
Therefore, I dare say that God does not call us to be devoted to rules and regulations, principles and policies without compassion for persons, especially those in need and those who are different. God does not desire homogeneity that craves sameness or inequality in response to, in fear of difference.
Therefore, whenever we hear a voice calling unto us and, especially, if we’re not sure of the source, then let us seek to discern whose voice it is based on what it says…
If that voice calls us to love only those who are like us and to fear all who are different, that, I declare to you, is not the voice of God.
If that voice calls us to love all people, especially those who are different, that, I declare to you, is the voice of God that we can believe, trust, lend our credence and credibility, verily, obey.
(1) Some examples, among many: Abram, later renamed Abraham, through a vision, heard God restate the Abrahamic Covenant, reminding Abram that he would have a son and be the father of many nations (Genesis 15.1, 5); Jacob dreamed of a ladder to heaven on which angels ascended and descended and received God’s promise that Abraham’s blessing would carry on through him (Genesis 28.10-17); Solomon in a dream, heard God’s offer, “Ask what I should give you”; Solomon choosing wisdom (1 Kings 3.5-12); Zechariah, through a vision, received the divine message that a son, who would be John the baptizer, would be born to him and his wife Elizabeth (Luke 1.5-17); Joseph, via dreams, knew that Mary’s pregnancy was of God and, thus, did not divorce her, was warned to take his family to Egypt so Herod could not kill Jesus, and was advised that Herod was dead, allowing the family to return home (Matthew 1.20; 2.13, 19).
(2) Religare, not coincidentally, also yields the word “ligament”, the connective tissue that binds or holds together bones.
Eli and Samuel, Harold Copping (1863-1932)
The Pharisees Question Jesus (1886-1894), James Tissot (1836-1902)