Out of all the locations on our itinerary, this was the one I felt the most about. Excitement. Dread. Hopefulness. Longing. Comfort. Nervousness. Anxiety. Grief.
It was a Sunday, a little over halfway through our trip. We were spending the day with a renowned archaeologist, touring the region of Samaria: Bethel, Ai, Shiloh, Sychar, Shechem. Ancient cities which had been lost and rediscovered. Places where sacred history happened. Bethel, where God appeared to Abram. Sychar, where Jesus spoke to the woman at the well. Ai, where Israel lost their first battle due to Achan’s sin. Shiloh, where God’s tabernacle stayed.
Shiloh, where Hannah prayed for a child.
December days in Israel are short; we were racing the sun all day. “Let’s make Shiloh a brief stop,” I overheard our guide say to another leader as we loaded into the bus. “We don’t need to dawdle there.”
We stopped at several sites near Bethel first, and then Ai. Both locations had much to see and discuss. But my heart was already anxiously racing with the thought of Shiloh.
Shiloh, where a barren woman went to ask God for a baby.
I didn’t know what I was feeling, or what I should be feeling, so I tried my best to ignore whatever it was knotting up my stomach. I tried to focus on listening to the archaeologist, tried to appreciate the moment. But my thoughts kept jumping ahead to Shiloh.
Shiloh, where a woman like me prayed so hard that the priest thought she was drunk.
Just before noon, we arrived. Our guide had explained on the drive that we were going to stop rather quickly so we could fit in several more locations before the afternoon light started to fade. We had to walk a short way to get to the actual location of the tabernacle itself; along the path, we passed a visitor center. “This building was funded by a wealthy Jewish woman,” our guide explained. “She tried for years to have a baby, and finally pilgrimaged here to pray just like Hannah did–and then built this center in honor of her son, Samuel!” Someone who knew what Logan and I were facing nudged my arm at this story. “See? Maybe it will happen for you, too!” she whispered. I looked away, knowing I would cry if I made eye contact.
Shiloh, where God answers prayers.
I remember very little of what our guide said once we actually reached the site of the tabernacle. I prowled along the outskirts of the group, hiding my teary eyes by taking pictures. I wanted silence, solitude, time to reflect and pray–a chance to fall on my knees and beg God to send us a child, too. But our group was large, our guide was hurrying to get to the next destination, other visitors kept coming and going.
“Well, I think that’s all we need to cover here. Let’s head back to the bus.” Slowly, reluctantly, I fell in with the rest of the tourists, though I desperately wanted to linger, to sit in quietness and feel God’s presence. Perhaps He would grant me peace. Perhaps He would give me assurance that I would someday give my husband a child. Perhaps He would send a sign that I could cling to.
But instead, I walked back down the path, clinging to Logan’s hand with all my might, keeping my head down so people couldn’t see that I was sobbing.
Shiloh, where God was silent to me.
I had hoped for some kind of sacred experience, some sort of message from God. But as we left Shiloh and headed to our next destination, I had no more assurance than before. God had not given me inward peace. I received no special feelings of joy or hope. Six months later, we are seemingly no closer to parenthood.
Shiloh, where my prayers were not answered.
Perhaps it was for the best. Had God done what I wanted–had He orchestrated the day so that I could have lingered and prayed at the site of the ancient tabernacle–perhaps I would have made too much of the experience. Perhaps I would have turned Shiloh into a shrine, begun to worship the place more than the God who sanctified it.
Shiloh, where I could not feel God’s presence.
Alone in our hotel room that evening, I wrote in my journal, venting my disappointment. I will probably never be able to revisit this sacred place; I lost my chance to pray where Hannah did. I left Shiloh with no peace, no confidence. And yet–I remembered that I serve a God who is everywhere. The One who loves me is always near.
I do not need Shiloh to get me closer to God. He hears the prayers I offer while I drive to work each day. He sees the tears I cry on my couch late at night. I cannot always feel Him, but I know He is here.
Shiloh, where the tabernacle is no more.
For now He is here in us.