Here we listen to three different witnesses, two of whom attest to the presence and power and shame within the text of Scripture – Walter Brueggemann, Patrick D. Miller and Judith Herman. Brueggemann invites us to consider 1 Samuel 1 as a story in four scenes. It is in the first of these scenes that we come across Hannah who is to be the mother of Samuel. In verses 3 to 8 we hear of Hannah’s shame. Brueggemann says: “The narrator … focuses attention on Hannah who ‘wept and would not eat” shamed, angry, depressed about her barren status.” (Brueggemann: p66.)
Hannah is barren and, for an Israelite woman, this is a state of shame. The resolution to her shame follows as the scenes of the story unfold. Eventually Hannah has her first born son and she dedicates him to the Lord.
Brueggemann then asks us to listen to the testimony of Patrick Miller who in They Cried to the Lord (Miller: pp233-243) has considered the prayers of different women in the Old Testament. Miller suggests that Psalm 6 could appropriately be understood as Hannah’s prayer, or if not Hannah, someone just like her. Psalm 6 is a call for God’s deliverance: “My soul is in anguish. How long, O Lord, how long?” (Psalm 6:3.) “I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.” (Psalm 6:6.).
The psalmist (or perhaps Hannah) completes her prayer either with thanksgving for what God has done, or by anticipating God’s rescue: “YHWH has heard my supplication; YHWH accepts my prayer. All my enemies shall be ashamed and struck with terror; they shall turn back, and in a moment be put to shame.” (Psalm 6:9-10.)
Those who have despised Hannah have been shamed themselves. They are the disgrace, not Hannah. She has been vindicated by the Lord!
Brueggemann goes on to point to the work of Judith Herman. In Trauma and Recovery she writes: “Survivors who grew up in abusive families have often cooperated for years with a family rule of silence. In preserving the family secret, they carry the weight of a burden that does not belong to them. … In their recovery, survivors may choose to declare to their families that the rule of silence has been irrevocably broken. In so doing they renounce the burden of shame, …” (Herman: p200, my emphasis).
Abuse is part of Hannah’s problem, she has been abused by her ‘sister-wife’, and no doubt also by her community, for her barrenness. In the four scenes of the story in 1 Samuel 1, Hannah finds her voice and she asserts her “existence and legitimacy,” (Brueggemann: p75), just as those shamed by abuse and a conspiracy of silence need to do. In those same four scenes we see God at work removing her shame, her barrenness.
Miller compares Hannah to Mary: “When Mary bears the child and witnesses the human impossibility become possible with God, she sings a song of praise and thanksgiving that is derivative of an earlier song of thanksgiving prayed under similar circumstances, the song of Hannah. In these two songs of thanksgiving by two women of lowly estate … we discover through their experience of God’s marvellous deliverance what those things are that are too wonderful for us, but not for God: lifting up the lowly and putting down the mighty, feeding the hungry and giving sight to the blind, making the barren woman a joyous mother of children, God’s power and intention to reverse those structures and realities of human existence that seem impossible to break.” (Miller: pp242-243.)
The power of shame is broken and those who would shame others are themselves shamed!
Walter Brueggemann; “Redescribing Reality: What We Do When We Read the Bible;” SCM, London, 2009.
Judith Herman; “Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – from Domestic Abuse to Political Terror;” Basic Books, New York, 1992.
Patrick D. Miller; “They Cried to the Lord: The Form and Theology of Biblical Prayer;” Fortress, Minneapolis, 1994.
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