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Simone Weil: What Pulls Me In

Last week, I introduced you to one of my recently-discovered heroines. Today I'd like to explain a little bit about what I see in her life and writings that grabs my attention, and in my next post, I'll share some quotes & thoughts from her works.

Here's why I'm drawn in by Simone Weil:

From a very young age, she strove for equality for all humanity, and believed in the need to care for the afflicted. Although she experienced profound mystical moments, and had a deep belief in the Christian faith, she died "outside" the Catholic church, having refused to be baptized - she felt it would compromise her intellectual integrity, and separate her from those with whom she most desired solidarity.

Simone trusted herself and her experiences - when she first experienced Christ's presence, it was wholly unexpected and unknown to her. In fact, she wrote that "God in his mercy had prevented me from reading the mystics, so that it should be evident to me that I had not invented this absolutely unexpected contact." I have immense respect for this self-certainty, and this openness to God's presence and movement in ways that went beyond her current experience/expectations.

She refused to bend her convictions for anyone or anything; at times, this caused deep trouble, and in many ways, it directly contributed to her death. But at the same time, it commands respect. There are so few people today who will hold their beliefs with grace and yet great will. When we consider her context - a French Jewish woman who lived during both World Wars - her strength of will is even more impressive.

Compassion and solidarity were major life themes for her. Injustice was an unforgivable reality, and equality of all people was to be sought. Simone placed a deep value on human life and justice. But her sense of justice extended beyond humanity to include the entire world. She wrote of the beauty and order of the world, and how we are called to love this home we have.

Simone was an imperfect person, who seemed to have struggled with her sense of self-worth and personal value, even as she fought for the same thing on behalf of others. She was sometimes difficult to get along with, due to her exacting standards on both herself and others. She expected much of her friends, and more of herself. I don't agree with everything that she wrote, and I imagine we might have gotten into some lively arguments if we had been peers. But I am sure I would have been challenged and changed, and that what we see in her writings - this mix of self-deprecation and profound insight into humanity - reminds us of what is true of every person. There are no perfect heroes.

In short (tl;dr), I'm deeply impressed by Simone's:
a. love of neighbour, which includes all of humanity, and the very world itself
b. experience of God
c. commitment to integrity, even when that put her at odds with institutions and major power structures

While none of these things are particularly surprising or profound, I believe they're some of the most essential elements of life, and combine for a powerful life-framework.

If these three things were the only things I strove for, the only criteria by which I lived my life or made my decisions - does this demonstrate love for the 'other'? does this bring me closer to God? is it consistent with what I am personally convinced is true? - I think I would be proud of my life.

Also, I should note that I'm very interested in Simone's presence on the fringes of the institutional church. I interact with a lot of people who are wary of the church - some who identify as Christians, and many who do not - and I think much of the criticism is deserved. Yet different people respond in their own ways, according to their convictions...some feel called to be change agents, some feel they need to work within the current structures, and others feel they must function outside the parameters. I've been spending a lot of time thinking about what my relationship is with the institutional aspect of church, this entity that is bigger than any one community, and often functions in contrast to the teachings of Jesus and what I would consider the essence of the gospel. I don't always feel like I belong inside - for some of the same reasons that Simone cites - intellectual integrity, groupthink (my phrase, not hers), neglect of the beauty/order of the world, and solidarity with those outside its fences.

next up: some excerpts and quotes from Waiting for God, a collection of letters and essays.


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