Friday, July 7, 1998
Location - FNCA 1998
There is some similarity between the story of the birth of Samson and the story of
the birth of Samuel, heightened by the fact that they seem to be the last two of the
judges. In each case, we are told of a mother who was barren, and in each case, the
son who is born by the grace of God and is devoted to the service of God. It is
almost as though Samson were a trial run, a precursor to the judge who would pave the
). In preparation for this, she herself is to drink neither wine nor strong drink,
and to eat no unclean food.
The Nazirite vow is recorded in the sixth chapter of Numbers, in part as follows:
When either men or women shall separate themselves to vow a Nazirite vow, to separate
themselves to the Lord, they shall separate themselves from wine and strong drink and
shall drink no vinegar of wine or vinegar of strong drink, nor shall they drink any
juice of grapes or eat either moist or dried grapes.]-the period of Naziriteship must
be ended, with prescribed sacrifices for the cleansing of the defilement.
When it says in Judges that the child is to be a Nazirite to God "from the womb,"
then, it evidently means it quite literally. The Nazirite vow is unique in being
applicable to women as well as to men, and Samson's mother is to be a Nazirite
throughout her pregnancy, making the child in her womb a Nazirite as well. We should
also note that while the vow could be for a limited time only-"until the days have
been fulfilled of their separation to the Lord"-Samson's, which was not at his own
behest, seems to have been lifelong, from his conception to his death.
Swedenborg takes the two main features of the vow correspondentially in an intriguing
fashion. The vine, grapes, and wine are familiar symbols for spiritual truth; and in
Arcana Coelestia 21872 Swedenborg explains that the abstinence from the vine
indicates that "the Nazirite represented the celestial/hea heavenly person, and as
long as he had hair, he referred to the natural of such people, who are in such
powerful and sturdy truth" (Arcana Coelestia 33014).
I'd like to spend the next section of this talk translating this terminology in a
general way, then take a quick look at the figure of Samson, and spend the last part
living up to the title of the talk, at what it would mean to be a "Swedenborgian
In general, then, "celestial" or "heavenly" people are people who live spontaneously
from their feelings. In the spiritual world, they constitute the highest heaven and
the lowest hell because our loves are central to our being. Whatever "celestial"
people are, they are totally, without reserve. When it says in Arcana Coelestia that
"a heavenly person is by nature unwilling even to mention spiritual things," it means
that such people are not the least bit interested in pondering the pros and cons of
an issue. Reality is the way they see it. In the words of Tevye in Fiddler on the
Roof, "There is no other hand."
Little children are like this-totally affectionate or totally miserable. I presume
most of you are familiar with the poem about the little girl who had a little curl,
right in the middle of her forehead. "When she was good, she was very, very good; but
when she was bad she was horrid." The process of growing up involves a separation of
will and understanding that allows us to be guided by the truths we are taught rather
than by our impulses; and the process of regeneration, carried to its fulfillment,
brings us to a state where we have accepted a new will from the Lord and can now
truly afford to be guided by our impulses. We have left behind the innocence of
ignorance and have arrived at the innocence of wisdom. We are again whole. We are our
love in action.
There is kind of psychological test developed along Jungian lines, the Meyers-Briggs
Personality Index, that is more concerned to understand than to judn, is impulsive.
His heart is on his sleeve. Whatever he does, he does all out, without stopping to
think. There is no guile, no hidden agenda.
The "natural" of this kind of person is, I believe, pretty much what we would now
call the "behavioral" level. That is, the focus of attention is not on motives or on
concepts but on actions. Don't turn to this kind of person for empathy or insight,
turn to this person for concrete help. Characteristically, if you tell such people
your troubles, their whole focus will be on what they can do to make things better.
They will hear you asking for action. If you tell them that all you want is a
sympathetic hearing, they either won't understand you or won't believe you. What's
the point of talking about it if all you can do is talk? Now the conversation is
over, and nothing has changed.
When you have people who put themselves wholly into whatever they do and who are
focused on action, you have some very strong and active people. While the rest of us
art trying women shall separate themselves to vow a Nazirite vow, to separate
themselves to the Lord, they shall separate themselves from wine and strong drink . .
. . All the days of their separation they shall eat nothing that comes from the vine,
from the seeds to the skins.
All the days of their separation no razor shall come upon their heads until the days
have been fulfilled of their separation to the Lord.
The word translated "Nazirite" (******) could in fact be translated, "one who is
separated or set apart," and there is clearly a sense in which this is true of "the
celestial-natural" person. These are the people who march to a different drummer, the
people who seem to have some inner compass, some internal guidance system that
generates its own signals. You're never quite sure what will be coming next. All you
know is that it will be emphatic and totally sincere.
All this seems to me to fit Samson admirably. In every episode he has his own agenda,
which he follows whether others approve or not. He challenges the Philistines on the
one hand, and wants a Philistine wife on the other, in each case violating the
pragmatic prohibition against getting involved with the oppressor. In his challenge
of the Philistines he stands in the tradition of the promise to Abram that Israel
should become a great nation. In his pursuit of Delilah he runs counter to that
tradition. When he is challenged, he does not rally the troops but tackles the
problem solo. Above all, he acts, evidently without counting the cost. Ultimately, he
gives away the secret of his strength because it solves the immediate problem of
Delilah's persistence, and only after it is too late does he discover the full
implications of his self-betrayal.
What, then, would "Swedenborgian Samsons" be like? Let's take the major
characteristics already outlined, and see what emerges.
First of all, they will be whole-hearted. These are warm, open folk with little
subtlety and no guile whatever-which may sometimes come across as a lack of tact.
They are likely to find it hard to understand points of view that differ from their
own because what they see is so obvious to them. They will reach conclusions quickly
and hold them passionately.
As to doctrine, their favorite passages will be the ones that state simple principles
in absolute terms. They will prefer, for example, the statement in § 46372 of Arcana
Coelestia that "the internal sense is in every single thing" in the Word to the more
careful statement in The Doctrine of Sacred Scripture § 3 that "the holiness of the
Word . . . in some places is in the letters themselves." They will have their
favorite Scripture passages that serve as guides to their lives, passages that have
lit up for them with meaning that has never been forgotten.
There may quite possibly be particular people in their lives, parents or teachers or
ministers, who embody for them everything that the church stands for. For them,
religion is above all personal rather than intellectual; and while they may have
great respect for doctrinal expertise, it will be a kind of terra incognita for them,
a land that they read about and wonder at but never visit.
Their whole-heartedness will tend to take the form of action. If they have a
"favorite doctrine," it is most likely to be the doctrine of use. Their attention
will gravitate toward those sections that talk about behavior and away from the ones
that talk about questioning and reflection. Given the prospect of a new church
program, for instance, they will be impatient with delays, ready and willing to be
out there doing. They will not be very effective members of study committees,
especially if the matter to be studied is delicate. They will feel out of place and
useless until a decision has been reached and it's time to roll up the sleeves.
Any "new program" they are asked to support has to be one they perceive as in keeping
with the central values of the church. It has to be authentic. They cannot be asked
to do things that don't feel right to them, even though theory may say that these
things will benefit the church. They may feel, for example, that the chancel is a
particularly holy place and not want to read a Scripture lesson for Sunday worship
even though they can sort of understand that lay participation in the worship service
stimulates interest. It's all very well for other lay people to take part-they may
not feel in this case that anyone else is unworthy-but they know themselves too well
to feel that they belong in that space.
They can be wrong, and they can make life difficult for others. Both the
impulsiveness and the focus on externals have their risks. For one thing, they can
cling to the forms that are dear to them and honestly not understand why these same
forms are not equally dear to everyone else. It can be hard or even impossible for
them to recognize that the deeper values which these forms represent for them can be
represented for others by quite different forms; and this means that they may find
themselves allied with people with whom they really have very little in common,
people who have an affection for the same externals for very different reasons. On
matters of crucual import, they may tend to see anyone who disagrees with them as
I recall an incident some years ago at a workshop that Cal Turley and I were
conducting in Canada. One elderly layman was resisting all this new stuff, these
workshops and discussions that seemed to be displacing the worship services and
reading circles that had meaning for him. Cal helped him explore what lay behind this
attachment, and it turned out to be profound love and respect for his father and an
overpowering feeling that it was his responsibility to maintain the values his father
For another person, though, what would appear to be the same resistance could stem
from a need to maintain status or control or an unwillingness to look deeper than the
external forms. It is quite natural to feel insecure when we are asked to venture
onto unfamiliar ground; and if I am the respected leader and have my ego invested in
that respect, I will want to keep you in my territory.
One standard way of doing this is for me to demean your territory, and this is one
kind of behavior that betrays the weakness of the "Samson." It is in fact a
Philistine reaction, his vulnerability to Delilah-an intellectual smokescreen
designed to conceal the actual need to be in control, or in doctrinal terms, a motion
of faith apart from charity, in the service of a love of dominion from the love of
Samsons can never be wholly secure in a complex and ambiguous world, but their
response to the unfamiliar is often not so much defensiveness as it is bewilderment.
The workings of the Philistine mind confuse them. It is painfully apt that Samson
wound up blinded, unable to perceive what was going on around him.
It is also apt that his final triumph came when he was put in touch with the two
pillars that supported the temple of Dagon. Let this "celestial-natural" person get
back in touch with fundamental issues, and there is no need for the intellectual
clarity symbolized by sight. The feel of the solid issues is enough, and the action
follows inevitably from that certainty.
Let me conclude by recalling that the Samson story is one moderately extended episode
in the vastly larger story of Scripture. It comes fairly early in that larger story,
between the wilderness and the monarchy. I would see its prime application to be to
the mid to late teens, when the pattern of living from crisis to crisis is beginning
to give way and the time is approaching for the individual to identify with
particular personal goals, to become proactive rather than reactive, in current
However, we don't all grow up in all respects, an behavior pattern that may show
itself most clearly in adolescence may recur in our adult years and may even remain
as a lifelong predilection for some. Our familiarity with the theology of the second
coming does not automatically make us spiritual people. There is nothing wrong with
being a Swedenborgian Samson, and in fact the church would be far weaker without
them. The hope is that their strengths may be appreciated and exercised and their
needs supplied by other members. If they are the right hand of the church, then they
are sorely needed; but it is abundantly clear that a healthy body cannot be all hand.