April 9, 2015

Simone Weil: On "Forms of the Implicit Love of God"

Simone Weil time again! One of the essays in Waiting for God is entitled "Forms of the Implicit Love of God." Her main argument is that before a soul has "direct contact" with God, there are three types of love that are implicitly the love of God, though they seem to have a different explicit object. That is, in loving X, you are really loving Y. (in this case, Y = God). As for the X of the equation, she lists:

  • Love of neighbor 
  • Love of the beauty of the world 
  • Love of religious practices 
  • and a special sidebar to Friendship

“Each has the virtue of a sacrament,” she writes. Each of these loves is something to be respected, honoured, and understood both symbolically and concretely. On each page of this essay, I found myself underlining profound, challenging, and thought-provoking words. There's so much to consider that I've gone back several times, mulling it over and wondering how my life would look if I truly believed even half of these things...

Here are a few quotes on each topic - some get a little philosophical, but I feel confident that there's something in here for everyone!

Love of Neighbor:
“The gospel makes no distinction between the love of our neighbour and justice.” 
“To treat our neighbour who is in affliction with love is something like baptizing him.” 
“In denying oneself, one becomes capable under God of establishing someone else by a creative affirmation. One gives oneself in ransom for the other. It is a redemptive act.” 
“God is not present, even if we invoke him, where the afflicted are merely regarded as an occasion for doing good.” 
“The sufferer and the other love each other, starting from God, through God, but not for the love of God; they love each other for the love of the one for the other. This is an impossibility. That is why it comes about only through the agency of God.”

Love of the Order of the World:

“By loving our neighbor we imitate the divine love which created us and all our fellows. By loving the order of the world we imitate the divine love which created this universe of which we are a part.” 
“In general…the beauty of the world is almost absent from the Christian tradition. This is strange. It is difficult to understand. It leaves a terrible gap. How can Christianity call itself catholic if the universe itself is left out?” 
“The beauty of the world is Christ’s tender smile for us coming through matter.” 
“Only beauty is not the means to anything else. It alone is good in itself, but without our finding any particular good or advantage in it. It seems itself to be a promise and not a good. But it only gives itself; it never gives anything else.” 
“The longing to love the beauty of the world in a human being is essentially the longing for the Incarnation.” 
“The suitability of things, beings, and events consists only in this, that they exist and that we should not wish that they did not exist or that they had been different.” 
“We have a heavenly country, but in a sense it is too difficult to love, because we do not know it; above all, in a sense, it is too easy to love, because we can imagine it as we please. We run the risk of loving a fiction under this name. If the love of the fiction is strong enough it makes all virtue easy, but at the same time of little value. Let us love the country of here below. It is real; it offers resistance to love. It is this country that God has given us to love. He has willed that it should be difficult yet possible to love it.”

The Love of Religious Practices:

“A change of religion is for the soul like a change of language for a writer. All religions, it is true, are not equally suitable for the recitation of the name of the Lord. Some, without any doubt, are very imperfect mediums…But in general the relative value of the various religions is a very difficult thing to discern; it is almost impossible, perhaps quite impossible. For a religion is known only from the inside.” 
“Each religion is an original combination of explicit and implicit truths; what is explicit in one is implicit in another. The implicit adherence to a truth can in some cases be worth as much as the explicit adherence, sometimes even a great deal more. He who knows the secrets of all hearts alone knows the secret of the different forms of faith. He has never revealed this secret, whatever anyone may say.” 
“Attention animated by desire is the whole foundation of religious practices.” 
“One of the principal truths of Christianity, a truth that goes almost unrecognized today, is that looking is what saves us…It is at those moments when we are, as we say, in a bad mood, when we feel incapable of the elevation of soul that befits holy things, it is then that it is most effectual to turn our eyes toward perfect purity. For it is then that evil, or rather mediocrity, comes to the surface of the soul and is in the best position for being burned by contact with the fire…the effort to look upon purity at such times, has to be something very violent; yet it is absolutely different from all that is generally known as effort, such as doing violence to one’s feelings or an act of will. Other words are needed to express it, but language cannot provide them." 
"The effort that brings a soul to salvation is like the effort of looking or of listening; it is the kind of effort by which a fiancĂ©e accepts her lover. It is an act of attention and consent; whereas what language designates as will is something suggestive of muscular effort…We cannot take a single step toward heaven. It is not in our power to travel in a vertical direction. If however we look heavenward for a long time, God comes and takes us up. He raises us easily…There is an easiness in salvation which is more difficult to us than all our efforts.”


“When a human being is in any degree necessary to us, we cannot desire his good unless we cease to desire our own.” 
“There is no friendship where there is inequality…If on one of the two sides there is not any respect for the autonomy of the other, this other must cut the bond uniting them out of respect for himself.” 
“Friendship has something universal about it. It consists of loving a human being as we should like to be able to love each soul in particular of all those who go to make up the human race.” 
“Pure friendship is an image of the original and perfect friendship that belongs to the Trinity and is the very essence of God.”

Implicit and Explicit Love:

“In the period of preparation the soul loves in emptiness. It does not know whether anything real answers its love. It may believe that it knows, but to believe is not to know. Such a belief does not help. The soul knows for certain only that it is hungry. The important thing is that it announces its hunger by crying. A child does not stop crying if we suggest to it that perhaps there is no bread. It goes on crying just the same.
The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry. It can only persuade itself of this by lying, for the reality of its hunger is not a belief, it is a certainty.” 
“God is pure beauty…God is, moreover, our real neighbour…God is also the perfect friend…In fact, contact with God is the true sacrament.” 
“We can, however, be almost certain that those whose love of God has caused the disappearance of the pure loves belonging to our life here below are no true friends of God. Our neighbor, our friends, religious ceremonies, and the beauty of the world do not fall to the level of unrealities after the soul has had direct contact with God. On the contrary, it is only then that these things become real. Previously they were half dreams. Previously they had no reality.”

I'd love to hear your thoughts on these - which strike you as profound? Which confuse you? Which do you disagree with? Let's hear all the thoughts! Let's discuss!

April 7, 2015

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.

April 1, 2015

Simone Weil: May I Introduce You?

Several years ago, I picked up a small biography of a woman named Simone Weil. I had little idea about who she was, or why I had heard her name, but she intrigued me, and I read the story of her life that summer. I found it fascinating, but I had never read any of her writing, and was unfamiliar with much of her context. The weight of her words and life did not fully sink into my heart.

This year, school has provided me with the opportunity to study her life and writing in more depth, and I am profoundly glad. She is, for me, a kindred spirit and great hero. 

So without further ado, I would like to introduce you to Simone Weil (pronounced Vay)

Simone Weil was born in 1909, in France. Her father was a medical doctor, her parents were both agnostic, and they came from a Jewish heritage. She had one older brother, Andre, who would go on to be a significant mathematician in the area of algebra and geometry. 

During WWI, her father served as a military doctor for several years, and was separated from the family.  At the age of 6, Simone discovered that soldiers at the front lines did not have access to sugar, and in solidarity, she refused to eat sugar herself. 

At the age of 10, she declared herself a Bolshevik. She was extremely intelligent, and by the time she was 12, she was proficient in ancient Greek. She had a high level of interest in philosophy and religions as a teenager, but her main preoccupation was with the suffering of the lower classes, the impoverished and the destitute.

She nearly committed suicide when she was 14, as she wrestled with profound feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness - feelings that never fully subsided throughout her life. 

She studied mathematics and philosophy alongside top-tier French thinkers of the time, including Simone de Beauvoir. By the time she was a young adult, she was actively involved in trade labour activism. In 1934, she took a year's leave from teaching to work incognito in a factory. 

However, she had always been a person of poor health, and this work took a toll on her. While recovering in Portugal, she had an epiphany: "the conviction was suddenly borne in upon me that Christianity is pre-eminently the religion of slaves, that slaves cannot help belonging to it, and I among them."

After this, she returned to teaching and political activism. In 1936, she joined the Spanish Civil War as part of the "anarchist militia." One day she burned herself on a cooking fire and was sent home, approximately two weeks before her entire troupe was killed. 

Recuperating once again, this time in Assisi, Italy, she visited the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli, where St. Francis of Assis used to pray. While there, "something stronger than I was compelled me for the first time in my life to go down on my knees."

She returned once again to teaching. The following year, while reading George Herbert's poem, "Love," she had a mystical experience, in which "without my knowing it the recitation had the virtue of a prayer.... Christ himself came down and took possession of me."

In 1941, while working in a vineyard, she memorized the "Our Father" (or Lord's Prayer) in Greek. Overcome by it, she developed a habit of praying it every morning with "absolute attention." Prior to this time, she had "never once prayed in all my life, at least not in the literal sense of the word. I had never said any words to God, either out loud or mentally. I had never pronounced a liturgical prayer."

She began to correspond with Fr. Perrin, a French priest who had become a dear friend, and something like a confessor to her. In the spring of 1942, she reluctantly left France (now occupied by Germany) to go to the US with her parents.

Later that year, she returned to Europe, finding herself in England, working with the French Resistance and desiring to be sent into France. During this time she wrote The Need for Roots. In 1943, she was diagnosed with tuberculosis, but refused special treatment out of her beliefs regarding solidarity and materialism. In the same vein, she limited her food intake to what she understood to be the food rations available in occupied France. Eventually, she was sent to a sanatorium to recover. However, she died of cardiac failure in August of 1943, at the age of 34.

(deep breath at the end of all that typing)

Turns out I have a lot to say about Simone, and many thoughts from her I'd like to share, so this is turning itself into a series of posts... I haven't done a series in AGES. How exciting.

I hope you'll come along.