Seduction and Devotion
“While everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat” (Mat. 13:24).
Few men have boasted strength and masculinity as Samson. He was God’s warrior, sent to the Israelites to battle vicious tribes. He tore a lion apart with his bare hands and slew an army with a donkey’s jawbone. Yet, despite his strength, Samson brought about his own destruction. He let down his guard. Entangled in lust, seduced by sweet, honeyed words, he slipped from God’s grace. All of us have feet of clay. When we stop wearing God’s armor, the world seduces us so easily. When we are not living a vibrant devotional life, we slip from grace and everything that makes life good.
Samson’s story is a fantastic allegory of temptation.
“He fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah” (Jdg. 16:4).
This is the start of the problem. Why was he fooling around with Philistine women? He was the Brad Bitt of the 12th century BC. He could have settled down with any charming Jewish girl. Yet, temptation always works this way. The itch is just beyond your reach. It is the same story of Adam and Eve in the garden. They lived in paradisal bliss, but one thing was out of their reach. The fruit was forbidden; because it was forbidden it was seductive. Sin is born in phantasy. God gives us all that we need, but we insist on having more.
Samson melts into Delilah’s arms and the whispering begins.
“Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued” (Jdg. 16:4).
Thoughts are so wily. They start at like friendly suggestions. You begin flirting with them, and before you know it they have buried roots deep in your heart. Samson was already gone as soon as he stepped through that door.
But who is Delilah? In this story she is a Philistine. In our story, she goes by different names. She is beautiful and alluring. She speaks with a silver tongue.
“Behold, a woman comes to meet him, dressed as a harlot and cunning of heart. She is boisterous and rebellious, Her feet do not remain at home; She is now in the streets, now in the squares, and lurks by every corner. So she seizes him and kisses him” (Prov. 7:10-13).
We all her know very well. Her name is apathy, forgetfulness, and distraction. She is all the noise and hubbub of modern life, all the entertainment and busyness that keeps our hearts from fixing on God. She is that sticky, seductive spirit of the times, in our 21st century world, which makes us spiritually sleepy.
In his book, Atheist Delusions, philosopher David Bentley Hart compares paganism of the past with paganism in our own times. In the old days, pagans feared their gods. They underwent gruesome rituals and even sacrificed their own babies. Though mislead, at least they took it seriously. Today, New Age paganism can be as comfortable as you like, by purchasing a dream catcher or a few pretty crystals, and lighting apple incense in a steaming hot tub. In some ways, this same nonchalant spirit of the times has affected the Christian Church.
Listen to this parable:
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this” (Mat. 13:24-28).
They were sleeping. God sowed the good seed. The wheat was lush and beautiful, so what happened? The workers of the field got lazy. They fell asleep, and while sleeping the enemy came in. This was Samson’s story too.
Delilah clouded his mind with comfort and sleep. Then she found the secret to break him.
“No razor has ever come upon my head,” Samson told her, “for I have been a holy one of God from my mother’s womb. If I am shaven, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like all other men” (Jdg. 16:17).
We know who Delilah is in our lives. What is the secret that keeps us strong? Our daily, devotional life.
Over this past week, I had the opportunity to pray and visit with the other clergy in our diocese. It was so rejuvenating, simply by being reminded of what we are here for on earth. Four times a day, we met for chapel. There were no bulletins, no handouts. Just a few candles and the cantor chanting psalms and scriptures, while we stood, heads bowed and eyes shut. We forget what prayer is. It is work, but most of all, it is simply being present with God. The Hebrews called it God’s Shekhinah, his enlightening presence, and our job is to stand before the Shekhinah with hearts of awe. Yet, in addition to praying with the fellow clergy, their devotion was contagious – so many men whose lives are built around daily prayer, fasting, and love for scripture. Our devotional life begins in communal worship, here during Mass at the altar. But that is not enough. We cannot walk the Christian life without daily devotion.
The Orthodox Church asks every person to set aside time in the morning and in the evening for devotion: to pray and to study scripture. We should pray without ceasing, but our morning and evening prayers are the anchor for tuning our hearts. We cannot just pray while driving to work, or taking a shower. We need to set aside specific time, even if it is for five minutes, to sit in God’s presence. We have to start and end our day by stopping everything, and insisting nothing else in the world matters so much as my time in the Shekhinah of Jesus Christ. With time, we can add to our prayer rule, but the rule itself has to be non-negotiable.
We do not pray because it is just a pious thing to do. We pray because it is intrinsic to being alive. The saint, Matthew the Poor, writes:
“Very few people spend any time practicing being with God. Fewer still enjoy the great blessing, by God’s grace, of interior prayer. Interior prayer is, in fact, the fruit of the spiritual life. It is a return of Adam to the beauty of his former spirituality.”
Prayer is a return to our natural state. Our hearts are pining to “walk with God in the garden.” But we get trapped in all our routines, and never live.
How do we walk out this life, this natural life? The Church gives us all kinds of tools. This is why we go to confession on a monthly basis. If nothing else, we get a chance to confess our struggles with prayer and to be held accountable. If you think you can walk the spiritual life on your own, you will fail. This is why the Church gives us prayer books. These prayers, composed by the saints who were so intimate with God, teach our soul how to pray. This is why we constantly remember and talk about the saints, because their example reminds us that we can succeed. There is nothing complicated about spirituality. It is nothing but grace-infused habits. Whatever it takes, we need to learn to pray.
The servants were sleeping while the enemy sowed weeds in the field. Samson was seduced in the arms of comfort and distraction. God longs to transform our hearts, to fill them with the joy of the resurrection. Yet, the world and our habits press on us and make us sleepy. We will find our strength in daily vigilance of prayer, fasting, and Holy Scripture.
“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:11).
May our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and look down on us, shielding us from seductive distractions and inspiring us to pursue him in our daily devotions. Amen.