Hineni… Here I am!
“Here I Am, Lord” is one of my favorite hymns. I love singing this hymn with the Friends Church choir. I love hearing it played at my friends’ ordination services. I requested that it be played at my grandmother’s funeral last February. My grandmother helped establish San Angelo’s Meals for the Elderly in 1974, serving as the program’s first dietitian. I still think of her when these words are sung,
Finest bread I will provide
‘Til their hearts be satisfied
I will give my life to them
Whom shall I send?
I love this hymn because it reminds me that I am God’s beloved, that I am worthy enough to be called upon to do the work of God’s love in the world. And I love this hymn because that terrifies me. Who am I to be deemed capable of responding to the chaos of the world with the relentless, insurmountable love of God?
In the first book of Samuel, God calls out to Samuel, but he does not know that it is God. How could he? What was happening in Samuel’s world before he heard this call? Judges concludes with one of the most violent and horrific stories of the biblical canon, the aftermath of which sparked war, chaos, and violence. A time of tremendous political uncertainty, the final verse of the Judges is thus, “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25, NRSV). The only examples of leadership that Samuel has seen are those of Eli, who routinely abused his position of authority. He existed within this liminal space of uncertainty, violence, and corruption.
Sound familiar? We are in the midst of a global pandemic which has taken the lives of so many of God’s beloved. We are in the midst of a transition of political powers, which has led to violence and death. Last week a riot broke out at our nation’s capital, led by misinformation and the dangers of nationalism, “all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” Do we find ourselves echoing Samuel’s uncertainty and confusion as to whom and for what we are being called to do?
Hineni הִנֵּֽנִי, this is the word in the Hebrew Bible which has been translated “Here I am.” It is powerful not only because it is used throughout the text as a response to God, but it is also how the Divine responds to us. It is part of that covenantal love of showing up for one another. We are able to say hineni because God is Emmanuel עִמָּנוּאֵל, with us. Being afraid and uncertain of God’s call, particularly in difficult times, is part of our tradition. Do not feel discouraged by that. When the Divine calls out to us, as God’s own beloved, may we respond just as we are, hineni, knowing that God is still speaking, “I am here for you, too, beloved.”