I came across this in John Cassian’s “The Institutes” in the section on the spirit of gluttony.
“This same old man declared, based on the following indications, that the devil has ever been the promoter of foolish tales and the enemy of spiritual conferences. For when he was talking with some of the brothers about important spiritual matters and notices that they had fallen into a kind of Lethean slumber and could not cast off the weight of sleep from their eyes, he immediately introduced a foolish tale.
When he saw that they woke up at once and pricked up their ears for the pleasure that it gave them, he said with a groan: ‘Up until now we were speaking about heavenly things, and the eyes of each of you were shut in deathlike repose. But when a foolish tale is introduced all of us wake up and shake off the torpor of the sleep that had mastered us. From this you should consider carefully, then, who was the enemy of that spiritual conference and who is the instigator of this vain and carnal tale. It is perfectly clear that it is the one who rejoices in wickedness and does not cease to foster the latter and to fight against the former.'”
As I read this I thought of all the times I’ve fallen asleep in church. I remember as a High School student sitting in the choir (which would sit in the front of the church facing the congregation) and falling asleep during the service. I’ve often wondered why I fell asleep. I don’t think I was overly tired. I’ve said on occasion that it was just a habit. Kind of like when you get in bed your body knows this is where you sleep and that helps you sleep. My body believed sitting in the choir meant it was time to take a nap. Even if I tried to stay awake, sleep would overcome me.
Perhaps Cassian has something here. By falling asleep I was unable to pay attention to what the pastor was saying. By falling asleep I was unable to reflect upon my spiritual life. My falling asleep kept me in the dark spiritually. However, if the pastor told a joke or a funny story I could start paying attention again. What’s with that?
Perhaps Paul has an explanation:
In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (1 Cor. 4:4)
Either way…if you are a pastor and you keep seeing the folks in your congregation falling asleep, or struggling to stay awake…perhaps there’s more going on than you thought. You thought you were boring….that may be true…however, the “god of this world” has no interest in seeing them awakened to Christ.