My daughter Hannah Rose turns 10 today, Sept. 15. Double digits. A whole decade under her belt. Some might think she’s got a flower in her name. But I see it more as a verb.
She’s named for Hannah, the mother of Samuel whose story launches the first chapter of the first book of Samuel in the Hebrew scriptures. Hannah is one of two wives. She is the favored one, because she is lovely. But she is also the childless one, a mark of shame in her day, shame of which the jealous second wife relentlessly reminds her.
Hannah’s deepest desire is to bear a son. That’s not surprising. In ancient Israel a barren woman had no future; with no sons and daughters to care for her in old age, she had no security, nothing lasting. Hannah was no vain fool; she knew that to have beauty brought favor only briefly. She knew what could happen when beauty faded or the husband died.
But to have a child, that’s another story.
Each year the family made a pilgrimage to Shiloh to offer sacrifices to God. On one such visit Hannah had had enough. So, “Hannah rose … and presented herself before the Lord” (Samuel 1: 9).
Hannah rose. And with that rising came tears of bitterness so deep that she made no sound. Eli the priest accused her of being drunk. When Hannah told him of her sorrow, he said he hoped God would grant what she had prayed for. Whatever it was. The priest didn’t ask.
Meanwhile, God didn’t have to ask. Because God knew Hannah’s prayer from the outset, and God answered it. Hannah went home, got pregnant and gave birth to the prophet Samuel. Which would be a great story right there, much like other stories of biblical women who miraculously conceived: Sarah, Rebecca, Elizabeth, Mary…
But it doesn’t end there. Hannah cared for her son until he was old enough to be weaned. Then she took Samuel to the house of Eli and presented him to the priest as one dedicated to God. Samuel lived with Eli and his sons from that time on until God called him to be a prophet in his own right, the one who anointed David the king, in fact.
Hannah marked her sacrifice with a song whose tone of triumph echoes in Mary’s Magnificat.
I find it unbelievable. Hannah received her deepest desire, cherished it and nurtured it for a few short years, and then she returned it to God. Not in the way that Abraham attempted to sacrifice Isaac, as a lamb to the slaughter. Rather Hannah sacrificed the right of a mother to be served by her children, so that her son could instead spend his life in service to God. Hannah’s gratitude was as bottomless as her despair had once been. And what of her security, her future, her purpose? She would bear five more children who would see to that; in the culture of the time that was blessing upon blessing.
Hannah’s story speaks to the power of a desire that is bone-deep and soul-deep. It suggests that Hannah’s determination was also God’s desire.
She may have been brought low by a call that seemed unreachable, but Hannah rose.
Hannah Rose. We chose the name because it has a lovely ring to it. But with it comes a hope that my daughter, too, will be a woman who rises – to embrace her dreams, to pour her desires and sorrows and joys out to God, to bring life and justice into the world, to serve, to lift others, to make a way.
She turns 10 on today, quickly rising from girlhood. She’s already shed her love of the color pink. Her American Girl dolls are in the closet.
It’s an appropriate time to record and post the song I wrote when she was new, the one about Hannah from the bible. (listen to: Hannah Rose, by Barbara Ballenger, 2000) My daughter knows the story pretty well, though the names and details have gotten fuzzy.
It’s time to remind her again that Hannah rose. As should we all.