Introduction: Samuel in the Temple
Stepping into the Silence
There is something about quiet sanctuaries that draws me to them: the hushed silence, the solitary cross, the weighty air. It feels profound. It’s as though when I am entering into the still space, I am entering into the presence of the Lord. That it’s here in the quiet, I can hear him. On days when I’m hurting or struggling to find the right path, I often long to slip into an empty sanctuary and pour out my heart to God.
It’s like the time my husband and I accidentally went to a midnight Latin Mass. We walked in, expecting a hymn sing. Before we went, I pictured a Christmas Eve carol sing from my past. Everyone was given a candle, and one by one, they were lit from the Christ candle. It was beautiful. It was memorable. It was nothing like this service.
We entered into the hushed room. Veiled women knelt on the hard benches. Men in pristine suits bowed down beside them. Children, too, were, surprisingly, silent and still before the Tabernacle. Everyone was praying or waiting for the priest to announce the good news.
And though it was nothing like my husband and I were expecting, and once the service started I couldn’t understand a word; the solemnity was beautiful in its own way. It’s in times like that when you can feel the presence of God and the Holy Spirit.
Living in God’s Presence
It’s why the flippant manner of Eli’s sons surprise me so much while Samuel’s love and devotion to God doesn’t. It’s true that the temple wasn’t always a quiet place. There were sheep bleating, and cattle were huffing and grunting. Men and women were praying (sometimes with gut-wrenching sobs like Hannah), praising God, and chatting to those around them. Children were pattering around the halls with the shockingly loud thump, thump, thump of tiny feet.
But there were also times of silence and contemplation. Times when you were expected to be still so you could listen, pray, and reflect on the Holy God and all he had done. And when I think of that, and I remember the feeling I get as I enter silent sanctuaries I think: if you can be in the place God dwells, if you can reside in the temple, if you can sit there in the deep silence before the throne, how else could you respond but with deep love and devotion.
When I sit in silent sanctuaries, I understand why hermits or anchoresses like Julian of Norwich, who lived attached to a church, were sought out for wisdom and guidance. Or, for a more modern example, why nuns who live in convents are seen as wise. These women who are called to live apart but together, to spend time in silence and contemplation, to help others enter into a deeper relationship with Christ. These women who get to dwell in God’s presence every day. How wonderful must that be?
But we are not all called to be nuns. Does this mean we are denied the ability to sit with God unless we accidentally walk into the wrong mass or arrive at church just after it’s unlocked?
I don’t think so. I think we are called to sit with God whatever our life looks like. We don’t have to be nuns or pastors or church leaders. We can be mothers sitting with God in our living room, we can be office managers sitting with God in our offices, we can be clerks sitting with God in our stores, or we can be students sitting with God in the study halls.
In this passage from 1 Samuel, the author says that the two brothers “had no regard for the LORD” (vs. 12). This phrase can also be read as they did not know the LORD:
they did not enter into fellowship with him,
they did not take the time to develop an internal silence where they could hear him speak,
and they did not acknowledge his claim on their lives or their covenantal relationship with him.
We do not need to be in a literal temple to be able to know God in this sense. As Jeremiah points out, when the new covenant is created (that is, after Jesus death and resurrection) God’s law will be in our hearts and minds, everyone—young, old, rich, poor, newcomer and fixture—everyone will truly know the Lord (Jeremiah 31:33-34).
In light of that, I think it’s important that we ask ourselves, “Do I know the Lord? Have I acknowledged him as my covenantal God?” Or to paraphrase 1 Samuel 2:35, “Do I know what’s on His heart and mind? And then do I act on it?”
The first two questions are easy to say yes to: “Yes I know God. Yes, I acknowledge him as my covenantal Lord.” However, this ease of answering means that we might not do enough internal reflection in order to determine the truth of our statements. But the third question, which I think would be the outward sign of the first two, is trickier. How do we know what’s on His heart and mind? What are some methods we can use to be able to discern His ways?
The answer to that final question is what we are going to look into over the next few weeks. For the first few weeks, we will be answering that question in relation to our hearts and minds. As such we’ll focus on spiritual practices like worship, prayer, meditation, and more. We won't just talk about these practices as good things to do, we will also look at the how-to aspect of each. What are the different ways we can worship? What does prayer look like? Does it still count as meditation if I have a preschooler yelling in my ear?
Then, once we’ve figured out how to enter his courts in our hearts, we’ll move onto the ways we live out His desires and act in love towards our friends, family members, and neighbours. I am looking forward to deepening my relationship with my covenantal Lord in the upcoming weeks, and I am so thankful that you ladies are joining me on this journey.