1st Week in Ordinary Time
Speak, for your servant is listening.
Yesterday, we saw how Eli mistook Hannah’s prayer for a child as the babbling of a drunken woman. Today, we see Eli mistaking young Samuel’s story of voices in the dark for nothing more than dreams coming from the boy’s vivid imagination. In both stories, Eli learns a vital lesson about listening—both to other people and, ultimately, to God.
In his book How to Speak, How to Listen, philosopher Mortimer J. Adler explains what it means to approach a conversation with our ears ready to really hear. He points to a common tendency to not pay close attention because we think we already know what the other person is about to say. Instead, we focus mostly on what we’ll say in response.
This seems to be Eli’s situation when Samuel wakes him up repeatedly, claiming to have heard a voice calling his name. Rather than asking Samuel to describe what he heard, Eli dismisses him brusquely and goes back to sleep. Eli thinks he knows exactly what is going on, and he has his response ready to go, probably before Samuel even finishes his story. It isn’t until the third time that the old man finally pays attention to Samuel’s story and helps him become the prophet God intended him to be.
This story has so many memorable elements—a tired, old man; his eager young charge; and a case of mistaken identity—that we might miss the spiritual truth behind it. By telling us that even Eli got it wrong sometimes, it offers us a word of encouragement to learn to listen carefully to God. It tells us that the more we practice, the better we become at identifying God’s voice and his messages to us. But it also tells us that no matter how experienced we are in the spiritual life, we won’t always get it right. At least not on the first try. Only by spending time in prayer each day can we sharpen our spiritual “hearing,” while at the same time growing in the humility we’ll need when we make a mistake.
So take Adler’s advice: listen carefully, especially in your prayer and when you read Scripture. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you already know what is coming. God might just surprise you.
“Father, amid the distractions I will face today, help me to keep an open heart so that I can also keep my ears open to hear you.”
Psalm 40:2, 5, 7-10
Word Among Us