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Simone Weil

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Mystics and Non-Dual Thinkers: Week 5

Simone Weil
Thursday, August 13, 2015

Simone Weil (1909-1943), born in Paris to agnostic Jewish parents, was drawn to the Christian faith around the age of 26. She also had a deep curiosity and appreciation for many religions, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism, and saw that each spiritual tradition offered a unique vision of transcendent wisdom. Yet Simone was cautious of syncretism, writing: “Each religion is alone true, that is to say, that at the moment we are thinking of it we must bring as much attention to bear on it as if there were nothing else. . . . A ‘synthesis’ of religion implies a lower quality of attention.” [1] Here you see how subtle and penetrating her thought often was!

Although from an affluent family, Simone was sympathetic to the working class and advocated for workers’ rights. As a political activist she was able to hold the tension of positive and negative of both socialism and capitalism. Simone died at the young age of 34, perhaps from self-chosen starvation; perhaps from a lifetime of poor health and, in her last year of life, tuberculosis; or perhaps, as her first English biographer Richard Rees writes, she died of love.

In spite of the pain she witnessed and experienced—through war and sickness—Simone was able to see beauty, and through beauty to see God. In her words: “In everything which gives us the pure authentic feeling of beauty there really is the presence of God. There is as it were an incarnation of God in the world and it is indicated by beauty. The beautiful is the experimental proof that the incarnation is possible.” [2] “The beauty of the world is Christ’s tender smile for us, coming through matter.” [3]

Simone understood that suffering, beyond physical and emotional pain, can be caused by our attachment to expectations. She writes: “When we are disappointed by a pleasure which we have been expecting and which comes, the disappointment is because we were expecting the future, and as soon as it is there it is present. We want the future to be there without ceasing to be future. This is an absurdity of which eternity alone is the cure.” [4]

Eric Springfield explains how Simone “recognized that love and goodness did not have to be defeated even by affliction, that even in the midst of soul-destroying suffering God could be present. . . . [Affliction] could be a way of giving one’s total consent to God, who never refuses [God’s] love to those who wait for it. Affliction could serve to erase the screen of the self that we erect between us and God and cannot tear down by ourselves.” [5]

In Waiting for God, Simone describes the implications of mysticism, when the barrier between false self and God disappears and one loves with God’s unconditional, inclusive love:

When a soul has attained a love filling the whole universe indiscriminately, this love becomes the bird with golden wings that pierces an opening in the egg of the world. After that, such a soul loves the universe, not from within but from without; from the dwelling place of the Wisdom of God, our first-born brother. Such a love does not love beings and things in God, but from the abode of God. Being close to God it views all beings and things from there, and its gaze is merged in the gaze of God. [6]

To empty ourselves of our false divinity, to deny ourselves, to give up being the center of the world in imagination, to discern that all points in the world are equally centers and that the true center is outside the world, this is to consent to the rule of mechanical necessity in matter and of free choice at the center of each soul. Such consent is love. The face of this love, which is turned toward thinking persons, is the love of our neighbor; the face turned toward matter is love of the order of the world, or love of the beauty of the world which is the same thing. [7]

Gateway to Silence:
“If we go down into ourselves, we find that we possess exactly what we desire.” —Simone Weil

[1] Notebooks of Simone Weil, Volume 1.
[2] Simone Weil, translated by Emma Crawford and Mario vonder Ruhr, Gravity and Grace (Routledge: 2002), 150.
[3] Simone Weil, translated by Emma Craufurd, Waiting on God (Routledge: 1951), 60.
[4] Weil, Gravity and Grace, 20.
[5] Eric O. Springsted, ed., Simone Weil, Modern Spiritual Masters Series (Orbis Books: 1998), 19.
[6] Simone Weil, translated by Emma Craufurd, Waiting for God (Harper & Row: 1973), 97-98.
[7] Ibid., 159-160.

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