by Catherine Upchurch
Special to The Leaven
Every year, social media outlets are flooded with photos of students (and even teachers and professors) posing to mark the first day of a new school year.
Most of these pictures show eager faces, even when schooling is at home or a mix of at-home and in-person learning. Hopefully, backpacks are brimming with needed school supplies or are awaiting kids at school. All this is a way of saying, “We’re ready. Bring it on!”
Believe it or not, it’s that same attitude and disposition of readiness that we disciples are to have. Every day, our readiness to say “yes” to God puts us in the position to grow in discipleship just as surely as grade school students and graduate students enter a new year poised to grow in knowledge and maturity.
One of the words used to express this readiness in the Bible is the Hebrew term “hineni.” Very simply, it means, “Here I am.” But more profoundly, it means, “Here I am. Send me. I am ready.” It’s the kind of term that implies a willingness to prepare for action, much as a soldier is ready to obey a command, or a couple on their wedding day is ready to make their “I do’s” into “We will.”
Saying to God, “Here I am,” means that we are ready to be sent somewhere else, physically or spiritually. How about some examples?
Moses, a shepherd in the bleak Sinai desert, goes about the business of caring for his sheep. During his regular duties, he sees a bush on fire, and as he approaches it, he hears his name and recognizes that it is God calling out to him. (Ex 3:1-10). He answers, “Here I am” (“hineni”), even before he knows what is being asked of him . . . and his life is never the same.
Although Moses finds many reasons to object to the divine mission God reveals, he finally settles into it with the divine assurance that he is not alone. He is sent from the desert back to the city of Pharaoh; he is sent from tending sheep to liberating people enslaved; he is sent from his fears into his calling.
Isaiah has a different experience, a vision of God’s holiness that leaves him trembling and in awe and filled with a sense of his sinfulness and the sin of his people (Is 6:1-8). Assured that he is “purged” of his sin, he is ready to be sent to his people on God’s behalf and says boldly, “Here I am, send me” (“hineni”). He calls the Hebrew people back to covenant faithfulness and will discover that his words often fall on deaf ears. But he keeps showing up, ready to do God’s bidding in familiar and unfamiliar places.
Another biblical example of readiness happens in a small town in Galilee where a young girl, betrothed but unmarried, is visited by an angel of God (Lk 1:26-38). Mary has found favor with God and is told she will bear a child whose kingdom will have no end. But God is no bully. This calling will require her “yes.” And her consent, her “fiat,” requires a level of readiness that will consume her life.
Mary’s readiness takes her from a simple crèche where her son is born to a cross where her son is crucified. It takes her from the comfort of her family home to the center of a new community we call the church. Ultimately, her readiness that day in Nazareth takes her to the heart of God.
From Bible times to today, the story of salvation history moves forward in and through our readiness to answer God, in small ways and in large.
That readiness is both the result of God’s grace and provides a deeper experience of grace in our lives.
Questions for reflection or discussion
Think of an experience or two when you readied yourself for a great task at work or a deep commitment in your family. Is it possible to invest that same kind of care and preparation in your daily response to God’s call in your life?
What roadblocks do you sometimes put up that prevent you from responding to God’s promptings?
While we may not serve in the same monumental capacities as Moses or the prophets or Mary, we are nonetheless asked to be ready to receive God’s promptings in our lives. What spiritual practices do you have that help you to stay open to hearing God in your own life?
What commitment have you made in your life that has led to a change of course? Do you consider this commitment part of your response to God at work in your life?
Catherine Upchurch is the general editor of the Little Rock Catholic Study Bible and contributes to several biblical publications. She writes from Fort Smith, Arkansas.