August 20 – Samuel the Prophet; Bernard of Clairvaux

Samuel the Prophet (XII cent. BC(E)) had a barren mother. Wait, that’s impossible. His mother was barren until she had him, whereupon she sang an ode of thanks. When he was three, she took him to the temple, as she had promised, to be raised by the high priest, Eli (quite literally, “my God”). When Samuel was seven, he heard a voice one night calling him, “Samuel, Samuel.” Thinking it was Eli, he padded over to where the priest was sleeping (I like to imagine him wearing footed pajamas but (alas) that seems unlikely). Eli said, “Go back to bed. It wasn’t me.” This happened three times before Eli “got it,” whereupon he said, “It’s the Lord. Ask him what he wants.” The Lord told Samuel he was going to (among other things) take the priesthood from Eli’s family (his sons were among the not-so-admirable of the land). Told this, Eli said, “Well, He’s the boss.”

Sure enough, the Philistines attacked, Eli’s sons were killed in battle, Eli died from a fall, and the Ark of the Covenant was carted off. (The Philistines brought it back later, after it made their god Dagon break in pieces, made them break out in boils, and so on. “Take it back!” they screamed.) Samuel became Judge over Israel, and he did a pretty good job, although the people retained their idols, Asherah poles, Ba’al keychains, and like that. So one day Samuel gathered the people of Israel together and said, “This idol worship stuff has got to stop.” They were smate to the heart, sold their idols on eBay, and held a weekend retreat of fasting and prayer at the soccer stadium. The Philistines heard they were all in one place and snuck up on them, but Samuel prayed a mighty prayer, and the Lord smute them.

Fast forward several years. Samuel was old, and his sons trained and ready to take over, when the people of Israel said, “We want to have a mighty king.” Samuel tried to dissuade them, but they sang all the louder, “We just can’t wait to be a kingdom!” Samuel asked God if this were such a great idea, and God replied, with a tear in his eye, “Whatever.” So Samuel took the glass slipper and went looking—sorry, wrong story. He found and anointed Saul, who proved to be a mixed blessing. But this isn’t his story. Samuel retired, and then, in the first verse of First Samuel, chapter 25, and without warning, died. He is honored as a mighty prophet in both Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) is called the “Mellifluous Doctor of the Church” and I’ll tell you why in a bit. Born to the French nobility, at age 22 he took four brothers and 25 best buds and founded a Cistercian monastery in the Val d’Absinthe (“My Dear Wormwood”), which he renamed Claire Vallée (“Clearly, It’s a Valley”), which history renamed Clairvaux (“Clairvaux”). He was instrumental in getting Pope Innocent II recognized as pope during one of those miserable French schisms, and almost held a public debate with Peter Abelard. After the opening statements, however, Pete threw in the towel, and the judges gave Bernard a 9.7, 9.8, and 9.9, respectively. Except the Soviet judge, who gave him a 3.5.

Somewhen in there he was dragged kicking and screaming to the Council of Troyes, then denounced later for sticking his neck out, putting his nose where it didn’t belong, and in general overextending body parts. He replied that if they wanted the frog to stay in the pond, they should have bloody well left him in the pond. They were placated and indeed impressed; this is exactly the sort of eloquence that won him the title “Mellifluous.” That and numerous sermons, treatises, and so on, including the hymn “O Sacred Head Once Wounded.”

He is the patron saint of bees.