The mystery of our salvation is present in a hidden way,” (Dei Verbum, 15). Tied up in this mystery is the mystery of the feminine genius, which John Paul II lauded in myriad ways and on multiple occasions.

The Old Testament Scriptures offer fascinating insights into God’s gradual restoration of womanhood through the coopera­tion of a number of memorable women. The precise nature of this cooperation is both wholly human and distinctly feminine; their stories in Scripture mark these women as those who lead us closer to the full meaning of womanhood.

Hannah (1 Samuel 1–2)

We meet Hannah at a particularly trying time of her life. Married and unable to bear children, she is shamed and ridiculed for her barrenness. Her husband’s other wife, Peninnah, often likes to “provoke her sorely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb” (1:6). Hannah feels cursed by God and mourns her predicament deeply. During a pilgrimage to the temple at Shiloh, Peninnah’s harassment becomes too much for Hannah. Weeping and refusing to eat, she goes to the temple to pray before the Lord.

Pouring out her heart and soul, she makes a vow: “O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the afflic­tion of thy maidservant, and remember me, and not forget thy maidservant, but wilt give to thy maidservant a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head” (1:11).

When she finishes praying, Hannah is no longer sad. Soon afterward, Hannah and her husband conceive Samuel. When the child is old enough to be weaned, Hannah fulfills her vow and takes Samuel to the temple, delivering him to the temple priest, Eli. Samuel goes on to become a great prophet and the last judge of Israel, ushering in the centralization of power among the tribes under a monarchy.

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