Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the LORD where the ark of God was. The LORD called to Samuel, who answered, "Here I am." Samuel ran to Eli and said, "Here I am. You called me." "I did not call you, " Eli said. "Go back to sleep." So, he went back to sleep. Again the LORD called Samuel, who rose and went to Eli. "Here I am, " he said. "You called me." But Eli answered, "I did not call you, my son. Go back to sleep."
At that time Samuel was not familiar with the LORD, because the LORD had not revealed anything to him as yet. The LORD called Samuel again, for the third time. Getting up and going to Eli, he said, "Here I am. You called me." Then Eli understood that the LORD was calling the youth. So he said to Samuel, "Go to sleep, and if you are called, reply, Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening." When Samuel went to sleep in his place, the LORD came and revealed his presence, calling out as before, "Samuel, Samuel!" Samuel answered, "Speak, for your servant is listening."
Samuel grew up, and the LORD was with him, not permitting any word of his to be without effect.
1 Samuel 3
Samuel was one of several characters in the Bible to be of miraculous birth; his mother having been incapable of becoming pregnant until she promised God her child would be raised a Nazarite (a form of asceticism) and receiving a blessing from Shiloh’s high-priest, Eli. Samuel would become an exceptionally important figure both spiritually and politically: he prophesied, assumed overall command of Israel after a series of cataclysmic military defeats, and eventually named Saul as Israel’s king.
This Sunday’s readings are about answering God’s call when it comes. I like today’s first reading because it provides a simple transcript for us to follow: "Speak, for your servant is listening."
To what is God likely to call us? If we don’t have free will, as science and philosophy tell us, it cannot be the sort of moral command so ubiquitously imagined in the Judeo-Christian imagination.
Perhaps it is an existential call - not a call to do or accomplish anything at all. Perhaps instead of "do this", it is, "I am here. You are loved." In the words of theologian Paul Tillich:
You are accepted! You are accepted! Accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!
This is not a fluffy ‘a trophy for every child’ theology, but the inevitable conclusion about the nature of our relationship to God if we take a scientific understanding of causality seriously.