HANNAH, Backwards or Forwards

I Samuel 1:4-20 & I Samuel 2:1-10 – The 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, November 18, 2012

“…He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap…” (I Samuel 2:8)

Once we were younger…

We did not name our dog Hannah after the Bible’s Hannah. However, over a dozen years ago we gave our golden retriever puppy the same name as the prophet Samuel’s mother.

We’d thought of dubbing her Chardonnay (we love wine) or Sierra (our favorite mountain range) or even Ginger (after the only other dog I’d owned). We tossed various names around in the weeks between her birth and when she’d be old enough to bring home.

Then one day, while my wife and I window-shopped at a Fresno mall, an older gentleman ambled by, trailed by a girl perhaps five years of age. I guessed them grandfather and granddaughter.

The older fellow slowed, turned back, and said something like, “Come on, Hannah, we have to walk a little quicker.”

That was it. They were gone.

Suddenly we were talking about Hannah as a possible name. Who knows why something not thought of a moment before can become the perfect choice?

Then and now I enjoy word games and the notion of naming my future dog with a palindrome added to the pleasure of the name. Words or sentences that are the same if spelled backwards intrigue me, like . . .

  • The brief . . . Hannah (duh!)
  • The four-word sermon . . . Live not on evil.
  • A dog owner’s foolish hope . . . Dog saw I was God.
  • And even the longer longing of . . . Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?

Clever, eh? Forwards and backwards, the same word or sentence.

Hannah she became. She got us coming and going.

Here, since I know my dog Hannah far better than the Biblical Hannah, I could expound on life lessons my puppy has taught me. Don’t folks always love tales about wagging tails? Indeed, dogs are always safer to talk about than any of the tough subjects like religion, politics or whose mother made the best potato salad.

When I walk alone people ignore me or perhaps mention the weather, and we keep moving apart. When I walk with Hannah, conversations blossom. At the least folks will say, “What a pretty dog!” (And never acknowledge I’m a decent looking dude.) On many occasions, people will stop me and ask to pet our pet and then we’ll swap dog owner stories or childhood memories or about the difference between dogs and cats. We’ve had fellow golden retriever owners grab on to Hannah and cry, eventually sharing about their best four-legged friend who died a year or a decade ago.

Walk a dog, invite a conversation.

See, I’ve already snuck in a life lesson from my soon-to-be thirteen-year old puppy.

Take time to talk.

Take time to listen.

Take time to linger with others and it’s amazing what they’ll share.

I’ve had city sidewalk and mountain trail chats expand from the simple “What a pretty dog!” to the intimate “I recall when my spouse and I took that cross-country trip . . .” The stranger—unknown seconds before—shares she’s a widow and how terrible her husband died from cancer and how precious were the vacation memories with the whole family and the dog and . . .

With a dog beside you, especially one as pretty and pet-able as our grinning, tail-wagging palindrome, it’s amazing how many stories have unfolded over the years, unbidden and yet all blessings.

Since I’ve avoided the Biblical Hannah, I should attempt a flimsy connection between our furry four-legged and Samuel’s mother. Also—though it’s quite a stretch—how the Biblical character and my dog are linked by a silly palindrome.

The Biblical Hannah is mentioned fleetingly in the vast scope of the Bible. She appears in I Samuel’s beginning chapters and then waves farewell. She’s never mentioned again; she comes, she goes. However, she represents a bridge between the old days and the new ways. Her son Samuel, prodded by God, will anoint David as the King. In the wagging of the Biblical tale, it could be said she shuts the door on the old tribal roughhousing for the new rule of the house of David. Hannah is a startling present moment in Biblical history, setting the stage for the future.

My dog Hannah has a feverish focus on snacks and is obsessed by playing with two blue balls. A typical dog, she sheds too much, slops water from her drinking bowl and carts random shoes around the house. But she is also a bridge. Because of my dog, strangers chat, dream, reminisce and even, kid-like, drop on their knees to pet her. She helps my wife and I delight in the present, in the here and now.

The palindrome? I’ve already used it as an example . . . Are we not drawn onward, we few, drawn onward to new era?

Isn’t that one way to sum up the Biblical Hannah’s great song, great prayer, great hope when she gives up her son Samuel to the temple and to God’s work? In I Samuel 2:1-10 she declared (like Jesus’ mother Mary will in Luke 1:46-55) that God’s preference is a new kingdom, a new kindom, a new era.

Still the puppy, except for that darn arthritis…

If I’ve learned nothing from my dog—and I’ve learned much—it’s that life is abundantly good. Here and now is a gift. Choosing the path toward God’s kindom is a step first taken in our actions today.

The Biblical Hannah sings of the one who is Holy, “. . . (God) raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.”

Onward! We help create future hope with our present joy.

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  1. Much joy in reading this, Larry! I’m amazed at the lessons our pets teach us. I hope to one day be the person my dog thinks I am…

    ‘Future hope created with present joy’ – that wisdom alone is worth a shout out of THANK YOU!

    1. Thanks Rusty. When I left my last church, a member gave me a T-shirt with “I hope one day to be the person my dog thinks I am.” True, true, true!!

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