"Man is not a god, Dostoevski asserts, and the individual man's inner voice will always tell him this truth." ~ Rene Girard
Today, on Short Story Monday, we present an introduction to a longer piece. This intro was intended to stand on its own while serving as an appetite whetting experience to create hunger for more.
"Everything that deceives may be said to enchant." ~ Plato
Introduction to The Life of Samson
From my earliest youth I have wondered (not in these exact words, of course, but with an earnestness as perpetual as consciousness itself) how can God, who is perfect, work through man, who is imperfect, to achieve His immutable purposes?
Whether this question was born into my heart from above, or cultivated in me by the priests and Levites who instructed our family in the ways of Yahweh, I do not know. These were the days when Israel was without a king; these were the days of Samson. Indeed, what better example of the Great Riddle than the life which Samson lived in our midst for more than twenty years?
Through the stories I am about to relate, God, in His great and infinite mercy, has in a small measure given me an understanding of this impenetrable mystery.
Here is what I believe: we receive that for which we hunger. He whose longing is for riches, to him riches will flow. That man whose mind dwells on things carnal will find a world of sensuality beyond his wildest imaginations. These satisfactions are not without a price, however. For this one thing I have seen: that a man not only receives that for which he longs, in the end he always gets more than he bargained for.
My longing was for understanding. I hungered. I thirsted. And I believed my desire -- to grasp with my full consciousness the deep things of God that were hidden in the womb of this dark mystery -- would be satisfied.
Here is something else I believe: each of us is unique, with unique experiences that enable us to discover things that no one else has ever thought about, has ever heard, having never had our own experiences.
Our experiences, as well as their unique lessons, are not only ours to learn, they are ours to share. If, in fact, once having learned we fail to share, we are violating, even thwarting the purposes of God in His self-revelation. (Are there not sins of omission as serious and equally terrible as any we commit?)
Why do we hold back then? Because we believe we have nothing worthwhile to say? Because we believe everyone has these insights, this understanding?Believe me, everyone does NOT have your insight. And the world is poorer by the very degree to which you keep silent.Organize your thoughts; sift what you know, and present, then, your offering. Take courage. Honor God and speak! Spill out your heart! We are a world in darkness; we are in need of your light. In service to those who do not, cannot, know the messages of life you bring: speak the words you alone can speak. Speak, that we may understand.
What follows here are the words I alone can speak, for the story of Samson and his struggles -- with God, with himself, with obsession -- is my story. That is to say: For this I was born, to listen and to hear, to record what I have heard, and to make an offering of this record to the world.
The beginning of my own personal illumination came during my imprisonment at Gaza. Up until that time, I had been a self-centered youth, wholly engaged in self-destructive behaviors which brought me a great deal of attention but little self-satisfaction. Once garrisoned, I was assigned to the task of taking care of a blind man, which included his feeding, clothing, bathing and, from time to time, the dressing of his wounds. The privilege was all mine, for this helpless man was Samson. Because of his fame, there is not a Hebrew among us who did not know of his exploits, his mighty deeds, how heled Israel for more than two decades before being betrayed and subdued.
There is a sense in which none of us can know the mind or plan of God with anything approaching certainty. Yet there are times and circumstances, upon which God has His hand, and we know by some inner knowing that, "Yes, this is God's arrangement." Such was my feeling in that prison, that having fallen so far, into such a darkened estate, I was not left abandoned, that there was yet hope for my life, that I might again know freedom, and joy.
The swarthy, weathered Samson I had first encountered was less than the man I expected. I am not refering here to his punctured, sightless eyes. He was only of modest physical stature, surpassing six feet in height by half a hand's width at most. His forearms and biceps were certainly powerful, but the overall impression was somewhat less than what legends had led me to imagine. It was difficult to connect the stories to the man.
Equally dissimilar was the interior Samson. I expected someone spoiled and egocentric (in all likelihood someone more like myself!) or, more in keeping with a common stereotype we Hebrews have, a rather large dimwitted sort of fellow. I hardly expected the intelligence and sensitivity this man possessed. His mind was ever alert and active. Perhaps even too active. "I think too much," he was fond of saying, sometimes with a laugh, and sometimes with remorse.
For weeks I had been longing to ask the question, "How could a man so wise, so seemingly intelligent and alert, have been so foolish, so stupid? You knew this Delilah was only out to destroy you. How could you have shared with her the secret of your strength? Wasn't it obvious, Samson, what she was trying to do?
"I felt myself impertinent, but at this point it was the burning question. And that morning -- it was a bad dream I had which set the whole thing off -- I feared we weren't going to be together that much longer. We'd been sharing deeply many things up to this time, of God, of our hearts, of our understanding of life and its meanings, but I could not fathom how this great hero of our people had fallen so badly, so decisively. What kind oflove is this that blinds one so utterly and completely to dangers and snares so clearly designed to undo him?
When I finally asked my question, Samson did not reply. For the whole of that afternoon he seemed buried in his thoughts, sad and absorbed. Even at supper he was silent, drawing around himself a barrier which I feared to penetrate. That night, too, hardly a word passed between us and I was disgusted with myself for my intrusiveness. Finally, when I could stand it no longer, I burst out, "I'm sorry I said anything. I'm sorry, it was foolish of me to stick my nose in your business. Please, forgive me." He seized my arm and shook his head emphatically, chestnut hair flying off from his shoulders (for it had been growing long again).
"No, my young brother, it is a good question. It is the right question. It comes from the deep places of your heart. You long for understanding. Is this not a longing born of the Spirit of Yahweh? And is it not as God's agent that you ask this question? You have spoken God's word, my friend, and I am challenged. I cannot answer lightly and without deliberation. Yes, I have been giving it thought. Tomorrow I will tell you my story. Perhaps we will both learn something. It is possible that no one can truly understand a fool in his folly. Still, I will speak of my life, as honestly and clearly as I am able, and in some small measure you will be satisfied with myanswer."
More than ten years have passed since the shared experiences of that Gaza prison. That is why Samson's story has been recorded here in such a piecemeal way, for which I am solely to blame. As much as possible, I have attempted to capture the actual flow of his thought and patterns of speech. Where necessary, I have elaborated portions of stories where he had himself previously painted a scene and did not embellish it when recounting this last portrait of his life. We were together for nearly six months, though many of those early months were spent in non-communicative brooding on both our parts. Over a period of time, as we shared more, we began discovering many parallels in our life journeys, which led us to a profound sense of brotherhood.
In the end, Samson believed I had been sent by God to hear his final confessions. After recounting the whole of his life in one final summation, we spent the rest of the night in prayer. The dawn broke with such splendor we could hardly help but sing with the birds who welcomed it. This was our last night together. The coming eve, Samson sacrificed his life with a feat that slaughtered three thousand Philistines in a single stroke, more than he had killed in all the years he had lived. Even in death, he amazed us.
Here is the story Samson told....