Today’s scripture in church was 1 Samuel. If you were a frequent Sunday School go-er, you know this story. Samuel was a late baby. His mother, Hannah, felt her infertility as you only can in a culture that values women for their baby-producing powers. She prayed HARD and promised God that if she only had a baby, she’d give it up to his temple. Well, she had a son and handed him over as soon as he was weaned (likely 2 or 3) to the priest Eli in keeping with her promise.
Two chapters later, we have an old Eli with a young Samuel sleeping nearby. Samuel keeps hearing his name called and keeps going to Eli, thinking Eli has called him. But Eli finally figured out what was going on, “Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy.” (1 Samuel 3:7). Today, the pastor encouraged us to find the Eli’s in our own life, who would help us hear what we are called to do.
But this raised a really great question for me – how the heck do the sages, the mentors, the old men and wise women who populate ever hero’s journey… how do THEY learn how to be the wise folks who stay home, tend fires, and wait for really obnoxious adolescent heroes to come to them? We all know the story of Samuel, but how do you become an Eli?
I can think of many, many stories with these wise, old folk. There’s Gandalf. And Dumbledore. Mr. Miyagi. There’s the Oracle in The Matrix. Uncle Iroh in Avatar. Star Wars has a battle of the mentors: Emperor Palpatine vs. Obi Wan. I bet you can come up with a dozen more. Almost every story that tells the tale of the hero, there’s the sage. The same is true in real life. The advice given to women is business over and over again is to find a mentor or a sponsor.
The other day I heard a story about Millie Bobby Brown (the actress who plays Eleven in Stranger Things). She went to some acting classes and “they” were so blown away by her talent that “they” said in the strongest possible terms that she and her family needed to get to Hollywood, stat. (I mean, “they” were right.) We’ve all heard this tale of the talent discovered (or missed). As kids, we all waited and hoped that someday some mysterious “they” would tap us on the shoulder and tell us that we had heart. Or skill. Or that special something. As I heard the story of Millie, I felt deeply uneasy.
You seem, I’m heading into wise old woman territory, and I’m not sure I know how to do the role. How did that acting person know that this one girl required all the stops to be pulled, and needed to go immediately to Hollywood? How does Mr. Miyagi know how to teach? Where did Uncle Iroh learn the humility to listen to his charge and not explain at great length why he knew better (which he did)? How did Dumbledore control his fears and desires to give Harry enough space to grow into himself without micromanaging? So often these teachers are abandoned and insulted by their charges in fits of pique. The kid goes, learns the hard way, comes back with new humility and the teacher (who was usually deeply hurt) is always gracious and never lashes out or sulks.
I do think that I’m probably the Gandalf-variety mage – meddling, and wants to hang around for the action and not let the kids screw it all up. Please note: Gandalf dies halfway through book one and doesn’t get to come back until book two at which point he’s finally learned to quit meddling so much.
These are very real concerns for me. I’d like to be a sage and mentor to those around me. At work, there are people who have 15 years less experience than I do, who are trying to navigate tricky waters. How do I help them? How do I learn to make it as little as possible about me? (What great sage went on at length about their accomplishments? The crappy ones!) How do I help people at church hear what God is calling them to do? How do I find the greatness in others, and then help them find it?
One last note on Samuel & Eli. If you read the lectionary and the Sunday school stories, you hear about Samuel’s call. What you don’t get is the full picture of Eli. The priesthood in those days was inherited. And Eli’s sons would be priests after him. And they were really bad boys doing bad things and abusing their authority. And Eli? Was an ineffective father. He tried to correct his sons’ behavior, but they were not swayed. So the same wise man who knew that God was calling Samuel couldn’t get through to his own kids about what the Lord expected of them. In fact, the prophecy that God gives Samuel in the dark that night is the destruction of Eli’s family, “His sons blasphemed God and he failed to restrain them. Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.'” (1 Samuel 3:13&14)
How do I make sure that, if I cannot be that sage to my own sons as Eli was not, I have put them in those places where the wise ones will see them and know them and guide them, when I cannot?
Have you ever read a great story about becoming an oracle or a sage? What does the journey of the wise one look like? What about in real life? What are some of the ways that we can change our life expectations from hoping someone will notice us, to trying to make sure we notice & help the heroes growing behind us?