Teach Us All You Can of Saying Yes

Joshua Reynolds, “The Calling of Samuel”

Spiritual Sunday

Newly retired and returning to the church I attended as a child, today I will serve as crucifer and read one of my favorite Biblical passages from those years. The story of the Lord calling the young Samuel naturally appeals to children, and Nancy Shaffer has written a wonderful poem about the incident.

Here’s the passage (1 Samuel 3:1-10):

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Eli questions Samuel closely the following morning, and in that way the poem’s speaker is like Samuel’s mentor, seeing a child as a conduit to God. She first wants to know how to receive the call and then what to do with it. In this, she resembles Wordsworth questioning the shepherd boy in Intimations of Immortality. Wordsworth incredulously asks the “best philosopher” why he wants to acquire adult sophistication when he already has everything he needs:

Thou little Child, yet glorious in the might 
Of heaven-born freedom on thy being’s height, 
Why with such earnest pains dost thou provoke 
The years to bring the inevitable yoke, 
Thus blindly with thy blessedness at strife? 

Shaffer knows that, somewhere during her life of cooking dinners and doing household chores, she began saying No. Now she wants to know how to change that No to a Yes.


By Nancy Schaffer

When you heard that voice and 
knew finally it called for you 
and what it was saying—where
were you? Were you in the shower,
wet and soapy, or chopping cabbage
late for dinner? Were you planting radish
seeds or seeking one lost sock? Maybe
wiping handprints off a window
or coaxing words into a sentence. 
Or coming upon a hyacinth or one last No. 
Where were you when you heard that ancient
voice, and did Yes get born right then 
and did you weep? Had it called you since
before you even were, and when you
knew that, did your joy escape all holding? 
Where were you when you heard that
calling voice, and how, in that moment,
did you mark it? How, ever after,
are you changed?

Tell us, please, all you can about that voice.
Teach us how to listen, how to hear.

Teach us all you can of saying Yes.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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