charity hamilton – troubled bodies: metaxu, suffering and the encounter with the divine

charity hamilton

Charity Hamilton

The body is the canvas on which the female experience is painted and through which female identity is often understood. The female body is a slate on which a patriarchal story has been written, scarred onto the flesh.

For Simone Weil metaxu was simultaneously that which separated and connected, so for instance the wall between two prison cells cuts off the prisoners but was also the means by which they communicated by knocking on that wall. Could the body be that metaxu all at once separating us and connecting us to the Divine? The nature of metaxu is that it offers a route not just for the individual soul but for the souls of others to travel…

It’s all well and good to dust off a dead French Jewish Catholic not-quite-feminist-philosopher called Simone Weil and say ‘thanks, your theory of metaxu is great’, but what I want to know within the bones of my so-called soul is how this notion of metaxu can draw me into God, how can it liberate my sisters and how can it usher in the kingdom of the mother of all creation?

Human beings are created in the image of God and formed from the dust of the earth, and thus the body has an echoing significance throughout Christian history. The body is the perceived seat of what some describe as the fall, the locus of the incarnation, the home of crucifixion, the vessel of redemption, salvation and resurrection. The body is not an external meaningless diversion from the spiritual path; rather it is an incredibly important recurring theme both biblically and in Christian tradition and history. Bray and Colebrook state that,

The body is a negotiation with images, but it is also a negotiation with pleasures, pains, other bodies, space, visibility, and medical practice; no single event in this field can act as a general ground for determining the status of the body (Bray and Colebrook, 1998).

Yet more than all of this, the body is the place in which we dwell, it is all we have. As Elizabeth Moltmann Wendell says ‘I am my body’ (Moltmann-Wendell, 1994). For each of our sisters the body is the canvas on which the female experience is painted and through which female identity is often understood. It is on the stage of our female bodies that some of the most fixed church doctrines have been written and enacted. The female body is a slate on which a patriarchal story has been written, scarred onto the flesh. These bodies of ours are patriarchal constructs which must be liberated and re-adopted into the Christian story without the limitations of perceived notions or definitions of ‘gender’.

Isherwood and Stuart assert that ‘From the moment we are asked to believe that Eve was a rib removed from the side of Adam we understand that theology is based in the body and we are at a disadvantage!’ (Isherwood and Stuart, 1998: 15). The historical dichotomy between the Eve and the Mary constructions has led to a definitive inequality for women, both in terms of physical wellbeing and in terms of spiritual and psychological wellbeing. The choices for a woman to be the sin-formed, temptress Eve or the virginal pure vessel Mary are seen historically in the precarious place of women in the church and in society.

Elizabeth Stuart writes that ‘Women were regarded as being ensnared in their bodiliness to a far greater degree than men and they too had to be tamed and subdued for their own good and the good of the men they might tempt into sin’ (Stuart, 1996: 23). It is hardly surprising therefore that twentieth and twenty-first century feminist, womanist, mujerista and black theologians have worked hard to undo and re-express a theology of the body which offers a more authentic narrative of the relationship between the Divine and the physical which both liberates the female body and liberates God from the patriarchal box the Church has created around her.

…The female body can only be liberated from that patriarchal overwriting by writing its own narrative, much of which will be based upon experiences of being troubled. The true nature of the female body can only be revealed by a concerted effort to ‘re-own’ this body as our own not as we have been taught to understand it. This in turn means that the systems, doctrines and ‘ways of being’ which exist within the Church and society must be challenged and re-imagined from the perspective of the un-vocalized and troubled female narrative. In the sense that the female body has not really been ours, has not been an authentically female body and yet has the potential to be unlocked as such, it therefore makes for the perfect condition for metaxu, it is that thing which separates in its forms of oppression and connects in its potential liberation. It is at once a place where great evil has been wrought and a place of divine goodness. Weil writes of love that,

Creation is an act of love and it is perpetual. At each moment our existence is God’s love for us. But God can only love himself. His love for us is love for himself through us. Thus, he who gives us our being loves in us the acceptance of not being. Our existence is made up only of his waiting for our acceptance not to exist. He is perpetually begging from us that existence which he gives. He gives it to us in order to beg it from us (Weil, 2002: 28).

According to Weil, our very existence is from God and returns to God. I would argue that to be able to return this ‘not being’ to God, the body has to take some form of action, or have some form of action performed upon it to open a space in which our not being or not existing can be offered to God. It is this removal of our self which I argue can be interpreted as a removal of the socially created self to leave only the God part of ourselves, the authentic self that is God. The body is metaxu in that it is imperfect and yet perfect. The body is human and therefore unreal and socially recreated, yet the body is also created by God and God dwells within it. The female body is both imprisoned and is liberated. Its imprisonment is the very thing that enables it to unravel the layers of patriarchal construction to locate the God part and its imprisonment is the thing which allows for an authentic narrative to be written. The female body has to separate us from the Divine in order to connect us to the Divine.

Read the whole of this interesting paper by Charity Hamilton HERE.

simone weil – training

simone weil gravity and graceWe have to accomplish the possible in order to touch the impossible. The correct exercise (according to our duty) of the natural faculties of will, love and knowledge is, in relation to spiritual realities, exactly what the movement of the body is in relation to the perception of tangible objects. A paralyzed man lacks this perception.

The fulfilment of our strictly human duty is of the same order as correctness in the work of drafting, translating, calculating, etc. To be careless about this correctness shows a lack of respect for the object. The same thing applies to neglect of duty.

Those things which have to do with inspiration are the only ones which are the better for delay. Those which have to do with natural duty and the will cannot allow of delay.

Precepts are not given for the sake of being practised, but practice is prescribed in order that precepts may be understood. They are scales. One does not play Bach without having done scales. But neither does one play a scale merely for the sake of the scale.

Training. Every time we catch ourselves involuntarily indulging in a proud thought, we must for a few seconds turn the full gaze of our attention upon the memory of some humiliation in our past life, choosing the most bitter, the most intolerable we can think of.

We must not try to change within ourselves or to efface desires and aversions, pleasures and sorrows. We must submit to them passively, just as we do to the impressions we receive from colours, according no greater credit to them than in the latter case. If my window is red I cannot, though I should reason day and night for a whole year, see my room as anything but pink. I know, moreover, that it is necessary, just and right that I should see it thus. At the same time, as far as information about my room goes, I only accord to the pink colour a credit limited by my knowledge of its relation to the window. I must accept in this way and no other the desires and aversions, pleasures and sorrows of every kind which I find within me.

On the other hand, as we have also a principle of violence in us—that is to say the will—we must also, in a limited measure, but to the full extent of that measure, use this violent principle in a violent way; we must compel ourselves by violence to act as though we had not a certain desire or aversion, without trying to persuade our sensibility—compelling it to obey. This causes it to revolt and we have to endure this revolt passively, taste of it, savour it, accept it as something outside ourselves, as the pink colour of the room with the red window.

Each time that we do violence to ourselves in this spirit we make an advance, slight or great but real, in the work of training the animal within us.

Of course if this violence we do ourselves is really to be of use in our training it must only be a means. When a man trains a dog to perform tricks he does not beat it for the sake of beating it, but in order to train it, and with this in view he only hits it when it fails to carry out a trick. If he beats it without any method he ends by making it unfit for any training, and that is what the wrong sort of asceticism does.

Violence against ourselves is only permissible when it is based on reason (with a view to carrying out what we clearly consider to be our duty)—or when it is enjoined on us through an irresistible impulsion on the part of grace (but then the violence does not come from ourselves).

The source of my difficulties lies in the fact that, through exhaustion and an absence of vital energy, I am below the level of normal activity. And if something takes me and raises me up I am lifted above it. When such moments come it would seem to me a calamity to waste them in ordinary activities. At other times, I should have to do violence to myself with a violence which I cannot succeed in mustering.

I could consent to the anomaly of behaviour resulting from this; but I know, or I believe I know, that I should not do so. It involves crimes of omission towards others. And as for myself, it imprisons me.

What method is there then?

I must practise transforming the sense of effort into a passive sense of suffering. Whatever I may have to bear, when God sends me suffering, I am inescapably forced to suffer all that there is to suffer. Why, when it comes to duty, should I not in like manner do all that there is to be done?

Mountains, rocks, fall upon us and hide us far from the wrath of the Lamb. At the present moment I deserve this wrath.

I must not forget that according to Saint John of the Cross the inspirations which turn us from the accomplishment of easy and humble obligations come from the side of evil.

Duty is given us in order to kill the self—and I allow so precious an instrument to grow rusty.

We must do our duty at the prescribed time in order to believe in the reality of the external world. We must believe in the reality of time. Otherwise we are in a dream.

It is years since I recognized this defect in myself and recognized its importance, and all this time I have done nothing to get rid of it. What excuse can I find?

Has it not been growing in me since I was ten years old? But however great it may be, it is limited. That is enough. If it is great enough to take from me the possibility of wiping it out during this life and so attaining to the state of perfection, that must be accepted just as it is, with an acceptance that is full of love. It is enough that I know that it exists, that it is evil and that it is finite. But to know each of these three things effectively and to know them all three together implies the beginning and the uninterrupted continuation of the process of wiping out. If this process does not begin to show itself, it is a sign that I do not know in truth the very thing that I am writing.

The necessary energy dwells in me, since I live by means of it. I must draw it relentlessly out of myself, even though I should die in so doing.

Uninterrupted interior prayer is the only perfect criterion of good and evil. Everything which does not interrupt it is permitted, everything which interrupts it is forbidden. It is impossible to do harm to others when we act in a state of prayer—on condition that it is true prayer. But before reaching that stage, we must have worn down our own will against the observance of rules.

Hope is the knowledge that the evil we bear within us is finite, that the slightest turning of the will towards good, though it should last but an instant, destroys a little of it, and that, in the spiritual realm, everything good infallibly produces good. Those who do not know this are doomed to the torture of the Danaïds.

Good infallibly produces good, and evil evil, in the purely spiritual realm. On the other hand, in the natural realm, that of psychology included, good and evil reciprocally produce each other. Accordingly we cannot have security until we have reached the spiritual realm—precisely the realm where we can obtain nothing by our own efforts, where we must wait for everything to come to us from outside.

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1 ‘If thou wilt thou canst make me clean’ (Gospel text).

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Excerpted from Simone Weil‘s Gravity and Grace. First French edition 1947. Translated by Emma Crawford. English language edition 1963. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

simone weil – the cross

simone weil gravity and graceWhoever takes up the sword shall perish by the sword. And whoever does not take up the sword (or lets it go) shall perish on the cross.

Christ healing the sick, raising the dead, etc.—that is the humble, human, almost low part of his mission. The supernatural part is the sweat of blood, the unsatisfied longing for human consolation, the supplication that he might be spared, the sense of being abandoned by God.

The abandonment at the supreme moment of the crucifixion, what an abyss of love on both sides!

‘My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?’
There we have the real proof that Christianity is something divine.

To be just it is necessary to be naked and dead—without imagination. That is why the model of justice has to be naked and dead. The cross alone is not open to imaginary imitation.

In order that the imitation of God should not be a mere matter of words, it is necessary that there should be a just man to imitate, but in order that we should be carried beyond the will it is necessary that we should not be able to choose to imitate him. One cannot choose the cross.

One might choose no matter what degree of asceticism or heroism, but not the cross, that is to say penal suffering.
Those who can only conceive of the crucifixion under the aspect of an offering do away with the salutary mystery and the salutary bitterness of it. To wish for martyrdom is far too little. The cross is infinitely more than martyrdom.
It is the most purely bitter suffering—penal suffering. This is the guarantee of its authenticity.

The cross. The tree of sin was a real tree, the tree of life was a wooden beam. Something which does not give fruit, but only vertical movement. ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up and he will draw all men unto himself.’ We can kill the vital energy in ourselves while keeping only the vertical movement. Leaves and fruit are a waste of energy if our only wish is to rise.

Adam and Eve sought for divinity in vital energy—a tree, fruit. But it is prepared for us on dead wood, geometrically squared, where a corpse is hanging. We must look for the secret of our kinship with God in our mortality.

God wears himself out through the infinite thickness of time and space in order to reach the soul and to captivate it. If it allows a pure and utter consent (though brief as a lightning flash) to be torn from it, then God conquers that soul. And when it has become entirely his he abandons it. He leaves it completely alone and it has in its turn, but gropingly, to cross the infinite thickness of time and space in search of him whom it loves. It is thus that the soul, starting from the opposite end, makes the same journey that God made towards it. And that is the cross.

God is crucified from the fact that finite beings, subject to necessity, to space and to time, think. I have to know that as a thinking, finite being I am God crucified. I have to be like God, but like God crucified. Like God almighty in so far as he is bound by necessity.

Prometheus—the god crucified for having loved men too much. Hippolytus, the man punished for having been too pure and too much loved by the gods. It is the coming together of the human and the divine which calls forth punishment.

We are what is furthest from God, situated at the extreme limit from which it is not absolutely impossible to come back to him. In our being, God is torn. We are the crucifixion of God. The love of God for us is a passion. How could that which is good love that which is evil without suffering? And that which is evil suffers too in loving that which is good. The mutual love of God and man is suffering.

In order that we should realize the distance between ourselves and God it was necessary that God should be a crucified slave. For we do not realize distance except in the downward direction. It is much easier to imagine ourselves in the place of God the Creator than in the place of Christ crucified.

The dimensions of Christ’s charity are the same as the distance between God and the creature.

The function of mediation in itself implies a tearing asunder. That is why we cannot conceive of the descent of God towards men or the ascent of man towards God without a tearing asunder.

We have to cross the infinite thickness of time and space—and God has to do it first, because he comes to us first. Of the links between God and man, love is the greatest. It is as great as the distance to be crossed.

So that the love may be as great as possible, the distance is as great as possible. That is why evil can extend to the extreme limit beyond which the very possibility of good disappears. Evil is permitted to touch this limit. It sometimes seems as though it overpassed it.

This, in a sense, is exactly the opposite of what Leibniz thought. It is certainly more compatible with God’s greatness, for if he had made the best of all possible worlds, it would mean that he could not do very much.

God crosses through the thickness of the world to come to us.

The Passion is the existence of perfect justice without any admixture of appearance. Justice is essentially non-active. It must either be transcendent or suffering.
The Passion is purely supernatural justice, absolutely stripped of all sensible help, even of the love of God in so far as it can be felt.
Redemptive suffering is that which strips suffering naked and brings it in its purity right into existence. That saves existence.

As God is present through the consecration of the Eucharist in what the senses perceive as a morsel of bread, so he is present in extreme evil through redemptive suffering through the cross.

From human misery to God. But not as a compensation or consolation. As a correlation.

There are people for whom everything is salutary which brings God nearer to them. For me it is everything which keeps him at a distance. Between me and him there is the thickness of the universe—and that of the cross is added to it.

Suffering is at the same time quite external with regard to innocence and quite essential to it.
Blood on snow. Innocence and evil. Evil itself must be pure. It can only be pure in the form of the suffering of someone innocent. An innocent being who suffers sheds the light of salvation upon evil. Such a one is the visible image of the innocent God. That is why a God who loves man and a man who loves God have to suffer.

Happy innocence. That also is something precious. But it is a precarious and fragile happiness, a happiness which depends on chance. The blossom of apple trees. Happiness is not bound up with innocence.

To be innocent is to bear the weight of the entire universe. It is to throw away the counterweight.

In emptying ourselves we expose ourselves to all the pressure of the surrounding universe.

God gives himself to men either as powerful or as perfect—it is for them to choose.

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Excerpted from Simone Weil‘s Gravity and Grace. First French edition 1947. Translated by Emma Crawford. English language edition 1963. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

simone weil – affliction

simone weil gravity and graceSuffering: superiority of man over God. The Incarnation was necessary so that this superiority should not be scandalous.

I should not love my suffering because it is useful. I should love it because it is.

To accept what is bitter. The acceptance must not be reflected back on to the bitterness so as to diminish it, otherwise the acceptance will be proportionately diminished in force and purity, for the thing to be accepted is that which is bitter in so far as it is bitter; it is that and nothing else. We have to say like Ivan Karamazov that nothing can make up for a single tear from a single child, and yet to accept all tears and the nameless horrors which are beyond tears. We have to accept these things, not in so far as they bring compensations with them, but in themselves. We have to accept the fact that they exist simply because they do exist.

If there were no affliction in this world we might think we were in paradise.

Two conceptions of hell: the ordinary one (suffering without consolation); mine (false beatitude, mistakenly thinking oneself to be in paradise).

Greater purity of physical suffering (Thibon). Hence, greater dignity of the people.

We should seek neither to escape suffering nor to suffer less, but to remain untainted by suffering.

The extreme greatness of Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering but a supernatural use for it.

We should make every effort we can to avoid affliction, so that the affliction which we meet with may be perfectly pure and perfectly bitter.

Joy is the overflowing consciousness of reality.

But to suffer while preserving our consciousness of reality is better. To suffer without being submerged in the nightmare. May the suffering be in one sense purely exterior and in another purely interior. For this to be so it must be situated only in the feelings. Then it is exterior (as it is outside the spiritual part of the soul) and interior (as it is entirely concentrated on ourselves, without being reflected back on to the universe in order to impair it).

Affliction compels us to recognise as real what we do not think possible.

Affliction. Time bears the thinking being in spite of himself towards that which he cannot bear and which will come all the same.‘Let this cup pass from me.’ Each second which passes brings some being in the world nearer to something he cannot bear.

There is a point in affliction where we are no longer able to bear either that it should go on or that we should be delivered from it.

Suffering is nothing, apart from the relationship between the past and the future, but what is more real for man than this relationship? It is reality itself.

The future. We go on thinking it will come until the moment when we think it will never come.
Two thoughts lighten affliction a little. Either that it will stop almost immediately or that it will never stop. We can think of it as impossible or necessary, but we can never think that it simply is. That is unendurable.

‘It is not possible!’ What is not possible is to envisage a future where the affliction will continue. The natural spring of thought towards the future is arrested. We are lacerated in our sense of time. ‘In a month, in a year, how shall we suffer?’

The being who can bear to think neither of the past nor the future is reduced to the state of matter. White Russians at Renault’s works. Thus one can learn to be obedient like matter, but no doubt they invented for themselves ready-made and illusive pasts and futures.

The fragmentation of time for criminals and prostitutes; it is the same with slaves. This is then a characteristic of affliction.

Time does us violence; it is the only violence. ‘Another shall gird thee and lead thee whither thou wouldst not’; time leads us whither we do not wish to go. Were I condemned to death, I should not be executed if, in the interval, time stood still. Whatever frightful thing may happen, can we desire that time should stop, that the stars should be stayed in their courses? Time’s violence rends the soul: by the rent eternity enters.

All problems come back again to time. Extreme suffering: undirected time: the way to hell or to paradise. Perpetuity or eternity.

It is not joy and sorrow which are opposed to each other, but the varieties within the one and the other. There are an infernal joy and pain, a healing joy and pain, a celestial joy and pain.

By nature we fly from suffering and seek pleasure. It is for this reason alone that joy serves as an image for good and pain for evil. Hence the imagery of paradise and hell. But as a matter of fact pleasure and pain are inseparable companions.

Suffering, teaching and transformation. What is necessary is not that the initiated should learn something, but that a transformation should come about in them which makes them capable of receiving the teaching.

Pathos means at the same time suffering (notably suffering unto death) and modification (notably transformation into an immortal being).

Suffering and enjoyment as sources of knowledge. The serpent offered knowledge to Adam and Eve. The Sirens offered knowledge to Ulysses. These stories teach that the soul is lost through seeking knowledge in pleasure. Why? Pleasure is perhaps innocent on condition that we do not seek knowledge in it. It is permissible to seek that only in suffering.

The infinite which is in man is at the mercy of a little piece of iron; such is the human condition; space and time are the cause of it. It is impossible to handle this piece of iron without suddenly reducing the infinite which is in man to a point on the pointed part, a point on the handle, at the cost of a harrowing pain. The whole being is stricken on the instant; there is no place left for God, even in the case of Christ, where the thought of God is no more at least than that of privation. This stage has to be reached if there is to be incarnation. The whole being becomes privation of God: how can we go beyond? After that there is only the resurrection. To reach this stage the cold touch of naked iron is necessary.

At the touch of the iron there must be a feeling of separation from God such as Christ experienced, otherwise it is another God. The martyrs did not feel that they were separated from God, but it was another God and it was perhaps better not to be a martyr. The God from whom the martyrs drew joy in torture or death is akin to the one who was officially adopted by the Empire and afterwards imposed by means of exterminations.

To say that the world is not worth anything, that this life is of no value and to give evil as the proof is absurd, for if these things are worthless what does evil take from us? Thus the better we are able to conceive of the fullness of joy, the purer and more intense will be our suffering in affliction and our compassion for others. What does suffering take from him who is without joy?

And if we conceive the fullness of joy, suffering is still to joy what hunger is to food. It is necessary to have had a revelation of reality through joy in order to find reality through suffering. Otherwise life is nothing but a more or less evil dream.

We must attain to the knowledge of a still fuller reality in suffering which is a nothingness and a void. In the same way we have greatly to love life in order to love death still more.
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Excerpted from Simone Weil‘s Gravity and Grace. First French edition 1947. Translated by Emma Crawford. English language edition 1963. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

simone weil – illusions

simone weil gravity and graceWe are drawn towards a thing because we believe it is good. We end by being chained to it because it has become necessary.

Things of the senses are real if they are considered as perceptible things, but unreal if considered as goods.

Appearance has the completeness of reality, but only as appearance. As anything other than appearance it is error.

Illusions about the things of this world do not concern their existence but their value. The image of the cave refers to values. We only possess shadowy imitations of good. It is also in relation to good that we are chained down like captives (attachment). We accept the false values which appear to us and when we think we are acting we are in reality motionless, for we are still confined in the same system of values.

Actions effectively carried out and yet imaginary. A man attempts suicide, recovers and is no more detached afterwards than he was before. His suicide was imaginary. Suicide is probably never anything else, and that is why it is forbidden.

Strictly speaking time does not exist (except within the limit of the present), yet we have to submit to it. Such is our condition. We are subject to that which does not exist. Whether it is a question of passively borne duration—physical pain, waiting, regret, remorse, fear—or of organized time—order, method, necessity—in both cases that to which we are subject does not exist. But our submission exists. We are really bound by unreal chains. Time which is unreal casts over all things including ourselves a veil of unreality.

The miser’s treasure is the shadow of an imitation of what is good. It is doubly unreal. For, to start with, a means to an end (such as money) is, in itself, something other than a good. But diverted from its function as a means and set up as an end, it is still further from being a good.

It is with regard to the assessment of values that our sense- perceptions are unreal, since things are unreal for us as values. But to attribute a false value to an object also takes reality from the perception of this object, because it submerges perception in imagination.

Thus perfect detachment alone enables us to see things in their naked reality, outside the fog of deceptive values. That is why ulcers and the dung-heap were necessary before Job could receive the revelation of the world’s beauty. For there is no detachment where there is no pain. And there is no pain endured without hatred or lying unless detachment is present also.

The soul which has poked its head out of heaven devours the being. The soul which has remained inside devours opinion.

Necessity is essentially a stranger to the imaginary.

What is real in perception and distinguishes it from dreams is not the sensations, but the necessity enshrined in these sensations.

‘Why these things and not others?’ ‘Because that is how it is.’ In the spiritual life illusion and truth are distinguished in the same way.

What is real in perception and distinguishes it from dreams is not sensations but necessity.
There is a distinction between those who remain inside the cave, shutting their eyes and imagining the journey, and those who really take it. In the spiritual realm also we have real and imaginary, and there also it is necessity which makes the difference—not simply suffering, because there are imaginary sufferings. As for inner feelings, nothing is more deceptive.

How can we distinguish the imaginary from the real in the spiritual realm?
We must prefer real hell to an imaginary paradise.

That which distinguishes higher states from lower ones is the coexistence in the higher states of several superposed planes.

Humility has as its object to eliminate that which is imaginary in spiritual progress. There is no harm in thinking ourselves far less advanced than we are: the effect of the light is in no way decreased thereby for its source is not in opinion. There is great harm in thinking ourselves more advanced, because then opinion has an effect.

A test of what is real is that it is hard and rough. Joys are found in it, not pleasure. What is pleasant belongs to dreams.

We must try to love without imagining—to love the appearance in its nakedness without interpretation. What we love then is truly God.

After having experienced the absolute good, we find the illusory and partial aspects of goods once more, but in a hierarchical order, so that we only allow ourselves to seek one such aspect within a limit where it does not interfere with the care due to another. This order is transcendent in relation to the aspects of goods which it connects together and it is a reflection of the absolute good.

Already discursive reason (the understanding of relationships) helps to break down idolatries by considering good and evil things as limited, merging, overlapping.

We must recognize the point at which good passes into evil: in so far as, to the extent that, having regard to, etc.

We must get further than the rule of three.

There is always a relationship to time to be taken into account. We must get rid of the illusion of possessing time. We must become incarnate.

Man has to perform an act of incarnation, for he is disembodied (désincarné) by his imagination. What comes to us from Satan is our imagination.

Cure for imaginary love. To give God the strict minimum in us, what it is absolutely impossible for us to refuse him—and desire that one day, and as soon as possible, this strict minimum may become all.

Transposition: we believe we are rising because while keeping the same base inclinations (for instance; the desire to triumph over others) we have given them a noble object.

We should, on the contrary, rise by attaching noble inclinations to lowly objects.

All the passions produce prodigies. A gambler is capable of watching and fasting almost like a saint, he has his premonitions, etc.

There is great danger in loving God as the gambler loves his game.

We must be careful about the level on which we place the infinite. If we place it on the level which is only suitable for the finite it will matter very little what name we give it.

The lower parts of my nature should love God, but not too much, for then it would not be God.
May their love be like hunger and thirst. Only the highest has the right to be satisfied.

Fear of God in Saint John of the Cross. Is this not the fear of thinking about God when we are unworthy; of sullying him by thinking about him wrongly? Through such fear the lower parts of our nature draw away from God.

The flesh is dangerous in so far as it refuses to love God, but also in so far as without fitting modesty it pushes itself forward to love him.

Why is the determination to fight against a prejudice a sure sign that one is full of it? Such a determination necessarily arises from an obsession. It constitutes an utterly sterile effort to get rid of it. In such a case the light of attention is the only thing which is effective, and it is not compatible with a polemical intention.

All the Freudian system is impregnated with the prejudice which it makes it its mission to fight—the prejudice that everything sexual is vile.

There is an essential difference between the mysticism which turns towards God the faculty of love and desire of which sexual energy constitutes the physiological foundation, and the false imitation of mysticism which, without changing the natural orientation of this faculty, gives it an imaginary object upon which it stamps the name of God as a label. To discriminate between these two operations, of which the second is still lower than debauchery, is difficult, but it is possible.

God and the supernatural are hidden and formless in the universe. It is well that they should be hidden and nameless in the soul. Otherwise there would be a risk of having something imaginary under the name of God (those who fed and clothed Christ did not know that it was Christ). This is the meaning of the ancient mysteries. Christianity (Catholic and Protestant) speaks too much about holy things.

Morality and literature. Imagination and fiction go to make up more than three-quarters of our real life. Rare indeed are the true contacts with good and evil.

A science which does not bring us nearer to God is worthless.
But if it brings us to him in the wrong way, that is to say if it brings us to an imaginary God, it is worse…

It is bad to think that I am the author of the operations which nature mechanically performs in me: it is still worse to think that the Holy Spirit is the author of them. That is still farther from the truth.

Different types of correlation and passage from one opposite to another:
Through total devotion to something great (including God), giving free licence to our lower nature.
Through contemplation of the infinite distance between the self and what is great, making of the self an instrument of greatness.

By what criterion can they be distinguished?
I think the only criterion is that bad correlation removes the limits from that which is rightly limited.

If we except the highest forms of sanctity and genius, that which gives the impression of being true in man is almost bound to be false, and that which is true is almost bound to give the impression of being false.

Work is needed to express what is true: also to receive what is true. We can express and receive what is false, or at least what is superficial, without any work.

When truth appears at least as true as falsehood it is a triumph of sanctity or of genius. Thus Saint Francis made his audience cry just like a cheap theatrical preacher would have done.

Duration, whether of centuries in the case of civilizations or of years and decades for individuals, has the Darwinian function of eliminating the unfit. That which is fitted for all things is eternal. In this alone lies the value of what we call experience. But falsehood is an armour by means of which man often enables what is unfit in him to survive events which, were it not for such armour, would destroy it (thus pride manages to survive humiliations), and this armour is as it were secreted by what is unfit in order to ward off the danger (in humiliation, pride makes thicker the inner falsehood which covers it). There is as it were a phagocytosis in the soul: everything which is threatened by time secretes falsehood in order not to die, and in proportion to the danger it is in of dying. That is why there is not any love of truth without an unconditional acceptance of death. The cross of Christ is the only gateway to knowledge.

I should look upon every sin I have committed as a favour of God. It is a favour that the essential imperfection which is hidden in my depths should have been to some extent made clear to me on a certain day, at a certain time, in certain circumstances. I wish and implore that my imperfection may be wholly revealed to me in so far as human thought is capable of grasping it. Not in order that it may be cured but, even if it should not be cured, in order that I may know the truth.

Everything that is worthless shuns the light. Here on earth we can hide ourselves beneath the flesh. At death we can do this no longer. We are given up naked to the light. That means hell, purgatory or paradise as the case may be.

That which makes us hold back from the effort which would bring us nearer to what is good is the repugnance of the flesh, but it is not the flesh’s repugnance in the face of effort. It is the flesh’s repugnance in the face of what is good, because for a bad cause, if there were a strong enough incentive, the flesh would consent to anything, knowing it could do so without dying. Death itself, endured for a bad cause, is not really death for the carnal part of the soul. What is mortal for the carnal part of the soul is to see God face to face.

That is why we fly from the inner void since God might steal into it.

It is not the pursuit of pleasure and the aversion for effort which causes sin, but fear of God. We know that we cannot see him face to face without dying and we do not want to die. We know that sin preserves us very effectively from seeing him face to face: pleasure and pain merely provide us with the slight indispensable impetus towards sin, and above all the pretext or alibi which is still more indispensable. In the same way as pretexts are necessary for unjust wars, a promise of some false good is necessary for sin, because we cannot endure the thought that we are going in the direction of evil. It is not the flesh which keeps us away from God; the flesh is the veil we place before us to shield us from him.

This is perhaps not the case until after a certain point has been reached. The image of the cave seems to suggest as much. At first it is movement which hurts. When we reach the opening it is the light. It not only blinds but wounds us. Our eyes turn away from it.

May it not be true that from that moment onwards mortal sins are the only kind we can any longer commit?

To use the flesh to hide ourselves from the light—is not that a mortal sin? A horrible idea.
Leprosy is preferable.

I need God to take me by force, because, if death, doing away with the shield of the flesh, were to put me face to face with him, I should run away.
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Excerpted from Simone Weil‘s Gravity and Grace. First French edition 1947. Translated by Emma Crawford. English language edition 1963. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

simone weil – decreation

simone weil gravity and graceDecreation: to make something created pass into the uncreated. Destruction: to make something created pass into nothingness. A blameworthy substitute for decreation.

Creation is an act of love and it is perpetual. At each moment our existence is God’s love for us. But God can only love himself. His love for us is love for himself through us. Thus, he who gives us our being loves in us the acceptance of not being.

Our existence is made up only of his waiting for our acceptance not to exist. He is perpetually begging from us that existence which he gives. He gives it to us in order to beg it from us.

Relentless necessity, wretchedness, distress, the crushing burden of poverty and of labour which wears us out, cruelty, torture, violent death, constraint, disease—all these constitute divine love. It is God who in love withdraws from us so that we can love him. For if we were exposed to the direct radiance of his love, without the protection of space, of time and of matter, we should be evaporated like water in the sun; there would not be enough ‘I’ in us to make it possible to surrender the ‘I’ for love’s sake. Necessity is the screen set between God and us so that we can be. It is for us to pierce through the screen so that we cease to be.

There exists a ‘deifugal’ force. Otherwise all would be God.

An imaginary divinity has been given to man so that he may strip himself of it like Christ did of his real divinity.

Renunciation. Imitation of God’s renunciation in creation. In a sense God renounces being everything. We should renounce being something. That is our only good.

We are like barrels with no bottom to them so long as we have not understood that we have a base.

Elevation and abasement. A woman looking at herself in a mirror and  adorning  herself  does  not  feel  the  shame  of  reducing  the self, that infinite being which surveys all things, to a small space. In the same way every time that we raise the ego (the social ego, the  psychological  ego etc.)  as  high  as  we  raise  it,  we  degrade ourselves  to  an  infinite  degree  by  confining  ourselves  to  being no more than that. When the ego is abased (unless energy tends to raise it by desire), we know that we are not that.

A very beautiful woman who looks at her reflection in the mirror can very well believe that she is that. An ugly woman knows that she is not that.

Everything which is grasped by our natural faculties is hypothetical. It is only supernatural love that establishes anything. Thus we are co-creators.

We participate in the creation of the world by decreating ourselves.

We only possess what we renounce; what we do not renounce escapes from us. In this sense, we cannot possess anything whatever unless it passes through God.

Catholic communion. God did not only make himself flesh for us once, every day he makes himself matter in order to give himself to man and to be consumed by him. Reciprocally, by fatigue, affliction and death, man is made matter and is consumed by God. How can we refuse this reciprocity?

He emptied himself of his divinity. We should empty ourselves of the false divinity with which we were born.

Once we have understood we are nothing, the object of all our efforts  is  to  become  nothing.  It  is  for  this  that  we  suffer  with resignation, it is for this that we act, it is for this that we pray.

May God grant me to become nothing.

In so far as I become nothing, God loves himself through me.

There is a resemblance between the lower and the higher. Hence slavery is an image of obedience to God, humiliation an image of humility, physical necessity an image of the irresistible pressure of grace, the saints’ self-abandonment from day to day an image of the frittering away of time among criminals, prostitutes, etc.

On this account it is necessary to seek out what is lowest, as an image.

May that which is low in us go downwards so that what is high can go upwards. For we are wrong side upward. We are born thus. To re-establish order is to undo the creature in us.

Reversal of the objective and the subjective.

Similarly, reversal of the positive and the negative. That is also the meaning of the philosophy of the Upanishads.

We are born and live in an inverted fashion, for we are born and live in sin which is an inversion of the hierarchy. The first operation is one of reversal—Conversion.

Except the seed die… It has to die in order to liberate the energy it bears within it so that with this energy new forms may be developed.

So we have to die in order to liberate a tied up energy, in order to possess an energy which is free and capable of understanding the true relationship of things.

The extreme difficulty which I often experience in carrying out the slightest action is a favour granted to me. For thus, by ordinary actions and without attracting attention, I can cut some of the roots of the tree. However indifferent we may be to the opinion of others, extraordinary actions contain a stimulus which cannot be separated from them. This stimulus is quite absent from ordinary actions. To find extraordinary difficulty in doing an ordinary action is a favour which calls for gratitude. We must not ask for the removal of such a difficulty: we must beg for grace to make good use of it.

In general we must not wish for the disappearance of any of our troubles, but grace to transform them.

For men of courage physical sufferings (and privations) are often a test of endurance and of strength of soul. But there is a better use to be made of them. For me then, may they not be that. May they rather be a testimony, lived and felt, of human misery. May I endure them in a completely passive manner. Whatever happens, how could I ever think an affliction too great, since the wound of an affliction and the abasement to which those whom it strikes are condemned opens to them the know- ledge of human misery, knowledge which is the door of all wisdom?

But  pleasure, happiness, prosperity, if  we  know  how  to recognize in them all that comes from outside (chance, circumstances, etc.), likewise bear testimony to human misery. They should be used in the same way. This applies even to grace, in so far as it is a sensible phenomenon.

We have to be nothing in order to be in our right place in the whole.

Renunciation demands that we should pass through anguish equivalent to that which would be caused in reality by the loss of all loved beings and all possession, including our faculties and attainments in the order of intelligence and character, our opinions, beliefs concerning what is good, what is stable, etc. And we must not lay these things down of ourselves but lose them—like Job. Moreover the energy thus cut off from its object should not be wasted in oscillations and degraded. The anguish should therefore be still greater than in real affliction, it should not be cut up and spread over time nor oriented towards a hope.

When the passion of love goes as far as vegetative energy, then we have cases like Phèdre, Arnolphe, etc.: ‘Et je sens là dedans qu’il faudra que je crève…’*

Hippolyte is really more necessary to the life of Phèdre, in the most literal sense of the word, than food.

In order that the love of God may penetrate as far down as that, nature has to undergo the ultimate violence. Job, the cross…

The love of Phèdre or of Arnolphe is impure. A love which should descend as low as theirs and yet remain pure… We must become nothing, we must go down to the vegetative level; it is then that God becomes bread.

If we consider what we are at a definite moment—the present moment, cut off from the past and the future—we are innocent. We cannot at that instant be anything but what we are: all progress implies duration. It is in the order of the world at this instant that we should be such as we are.

To isolate a moment in this way implies pardon. But such isolation is detachment.

There are only two instants of perfect nudity and purity in human life: birth and death. It is only when newly-born or on our death-bed that we can adore God in human form without sullying the divinity.

Death. An instantaneous state, without past or future. Indispensable for entering eternity.

If we find fullness of joy in the thought that God is, we must find the same fullness in the knowledge that we ourselves are not, for it is the same thought. And this knowledge is extended to our sensibility only through suffering and death.

Joy within God. Perfect and infinite joy really exists within God. My participation can add nothing to it, my non-participation can take nothing from the reality of this perfect and infinite joy. Of what importance is it then whether I am to share in it or not? Of no importance whatever.

Those who wish for their salvation do not truly believe in the reality of the joy within God.

Belief in immortality is harmful because it is not in our power to conceive of the soul as really incorporeal. So this belief is in fact a belief in the prolongation of life, and it robs death of its purpose.

The presence of God. This should be understood in two ways. As Creator, God is present in everything which exists as soon as it exists. The presence for which God needs the co-operation of the creature is the presence of God, not as Creator but as Spirit. The first presence is the presence of creation. The second is the presence of decreation. (He who created us without our help will not save us without our consent. Saint Augustine.)

God could create only by hiding himself. Otherwise there would be nothing but himself.

Holiness should then be hidden too, even from consciousness in a certain measure. And it should be hidden in the world.

Being and having. Being does not belong to man, only having. The being of man is situated behind the curtain, on the supernatural side. What he can know of himself is only what is lent him by circumstances. My ‘I’ is hidden for me (and for others); it is on the side of God, it is in God, it is God. To be proud is to forget that one is God… The curtain is human misery: there was a curtain even for Christ.

Job. Satan to God: ‘Doth he love Thee for thyself alone?’ It is a question of the level of love. Is love situated on the level of sheep, fields of corn, numerous children? Or is it situated further off, in the third dimension, behind? However deep this love may be there is a breaking-point when it succumbs, and it is this moment which transforms, which wrenches us away from the finite towards the infinite, which makes the soul’s love for God transcendent in the soul. It is the death of the soul. Woe to him for whom the death of the body precedes that of the soul. The soul which is not full of love dies a bad death. Why is it necessary that such a death should happen without distinction. It must indeed be so. It is necessary that everything should happen without distinction.

Appearance clings to being, and pain alone can tear them from each other.

For whoever is in possession of being there can be no appearance. Appearance chains being down.

Time in its course tears appearance from being and being from appearance by violence. Time makes it manifest that it is not eternity.

It is necessary to uproot oneself. To cut down the tree and make of it a cross, and then to carry it every day.

It is necessary not to be ‘myself ’, still less to be ‘ourselves’.

The city gives us the feeling of being at home.

We must take the feeling of being at home into exile. We must be rooted in the absence of a place.

To uproot oneself socially and vegetatively.

To exile oneself from every earthly country.

To do all that to others, from the outside, is a substitute (ersatz) for decreation. It results in unreality.

But by uprooting oneself one seeks greater reality

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*  ‘And I feel that I must die of it…”

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Excerpted from Simone Weil‘s Gravity and Grace. First French edition 1947. Translated by Emma Crawford. English language edition 1963. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.

simone weil – the self

simone weil gravity and graceWe possess nothing in the world—a mere chance can strip us of everything—except the power to say ‘I’. That is what we have to give to God—in other words, to destroy. There is absolutely no other free act which it is given us to accomplish—only the destruction of the ‘I’.

Offering: We cannot offer anything but the ‘I’, and all we call an offering is merely a label attached to a compensatory assertion of the ‘I’.

Nothing in the world can rob us of the power to say ‘I’. Nothing except extreme affliction. Nothing is worse than extreme affliction which destroys the ‘I’ from outside, because after that we can no longer destroy it ourselves. What happens to those whose ‘I’ has been destroyed from outside by affliction? It is not pos- sible to imagine anything for them but annihilation according to the atheistic or materialistic conception.

Though they may have lost their ‘I’, it does not mean that they have no more egoism. Quite the reverse. To be sure, this may occasionally happen when a dog-like devotion is brought about, but at other times the being is reduced to naked, vegetative egoism. An egoism without an ‘I’.

So long as we ourselves have begun the process of destroying the ‘I’, we can prevent any affliction from causing harm. For the ‘I’ is not destroyed by external pressure without a violent revolt. If for the love of God we refuse to give ourselves over to this revolt, the destruction does not take place from outside but from within.

Redemptive suffering. If a human being who is in a state of perfection and has through grace completely destroyed the ‘I’ in himself, falls into that degree of affliction which corresponds for him to the destruction of the ‘I’ from outside—we have there the cross in its fullness. Affliction can no longer destroy the ‘I’ in him for the ‘I’ in him no longer exists, having completely disap- peared and left the place to God. But affliction produces an effect which is equivalent, on the plane of perfection, to the exterior destruction of the ‘I’. It produces the absence of God. ‘My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’

What is this absence of God produced by extreme affliction within the perfect soul? What is the value which is attached to it and which is known as redemptive suffering?

Redemptive suffering is that by which evil really has fullness of being to the utmost extent of its capacity.

By redemptive suffering, God is present in extreme evil. For the absence of God is the mode of divine presence which corresponds to evil—absence which is felt. He who has not God within himself cannot feel his absence.

It is the purity, the perfection, the plenitude, the abyss of evil. Whereas hell is a false abyss (cf. Thibon). Hell is superficial. Hell is a nothingness which has the pretension and gives the illusion of being.

Purely external destruction of the ‘I’ is quasi-infernal suffering. External destruction with which the soul associates itself through love is expiatory suffering. The bringing about of the absence of God in a soul completely emptied of self through love is redemptive suffering.

In affliction the vital instinct survives all the attachments which have been torn away, and blindly fastens itself to everything which can provide it with support, like a plant fastens its tendrils. Gratitude (except in a base form) and justice are not conceivable in this state. Slavery. There is no longer the extra amount of energy required to support free-will by which man takes the measure of things. Affliction, from this point of view, is hideous as life in its nakedness always is, like an amputated stump, like the swarming of insects. Life without form. Survival is then the only attachment. That is where extreme affliction begins—when all other attachments are replaced by that of survival. Attachment appears then in its nakedness without any other object but itself—Hell.

It is by this mechanism that to those in affliction life appears as the one thing desirable, at the very time when their life is in no way preferable to death.

In this state, to accept death is total detachment.

Quasi-hell on earth. Complete uprooting in affliction

Human injustice as a general rule produces not martyrs but quasi-damned souls. Beings who have fallen into this quasi-hell are like someone stripped and wounded by robbers. They have lost the clothing of character.

The greatest suffering which allows any of a man’s roots to remain is at an infinite distance from this quasi-hell.

When we do a service to beings thus uprooted and we receive in exchange discourtesy, ingratitude, betrayal, we are merely enduring a small share of their affliction. It is our duty to expose ourselves to it in a limited measure just as it is our duty to expose ourselves to affliction. When it comes we should endure it as we endure affliction, without referring it back to particular people, for it cannot be referred back to anything. There is something impersonal in quasi-infernal affliction as there is in perfection.

For those whose ‘I’ is dead we can do nothing, absolutely nothing. We never know, however, whether in a particular person the ‘I’ is quite dead or only inanimate. If it is not quite dead, love can reanimate it as though by an injection, but it must be love which is utterly pure without the slightest trace of condescension, for the least shade of contempt drives towards death.

When the ‘I’ is wounded from outside it starts by revolting in the most extreme and bitter manner like an animal at bay. But as soon as the ‘I’ is half dead, it wants to be finished off and allows itself to sink into unconsciousness. If it is then awakened by a touch of love, there is sharp pain which results in anger and sometimes hatred for whoever has provoked this pain. Hence the apparently inexplicable vindictiveness of the fallen towards their benefactors.

It can also happen that the love of the benefactor is not pure. Then, in the ‘I’, awakened by love but immediately wounded afresh by contempt, there surges up the bitterest of hatreds, a hatred which is legitimate.

He, on the contrary, in whom the ‘I’ is quite dead is in no way embarrassed by the love which is shown him. He takes what comes just as dogs and cats receive food, warmth and caresses, and, like them, he is eager to obtain as much as possible. As the case may be, he either attaches himself like a dog or accepts what comes to him with a certain indifference like a cat. Without the slightest scruple he absorbs all the energy of whoever tries to help him.

Unfortunately in every charitable work there is a danger lest the majority of its clients should be composed of people with no scruples, and above all, of people in whom the ‘I’ has been killed.

The weaker the character of him who endures affliction, the more quickly is the ‘I’ destroyed. To be more exact, the limit of the affliction which destroys the ‘I’ is situated at a greater or lesser distance according to the quality of the character, and the further it is the more the character is said to be strong.

The position of this limit, whether near or far, is probably a fact of nature in the same way as a gift for mathematics, and he who, without having any faith, is proud of preserving his morale in difficult circumstances, has no more reason to be so than the youth who is conceited because mathematics come easily to him. He who believes in God is in danger of a still greater illusion—that of attributing to grace what is simply an essentially mechanical effect of nature.

The agony of extreme affliction is the destruction of the ‘I’ from outside: Arnolphe, Phèdre, Lycaon. We are right to fall on our knees, to make abject supplication when that violent death which is going to strike us down threatens to kill the ‘I’ from outside even before life is destroyed.

‘Niobe also, of the beautiful hair, thought of eating.’ That is sublime, in the same way as space in Giotto’s frescoes.

A humiliation which forces us to renounce even despair.

The sin in me says ‘I’.

I am all. But this particular ‘I’ is God. And it is not an ‘I’.

Evil makes distinctions, it prevents God from being equivalent to all.

It is because of my wretchedness that I am ‘I’. It is on account of the wretchedness of the universe that, in a sense, God is ‘I’ (that is to say a person).

The Pharisees were people who relied on their own strength to be virtuous.

Humility consists in knowing that in what we call ‘I’ there is no source of energy by which we can rise.

Everything without exception which is of value in me comes from somewhere other than myself, not as a gift but as a loan which must be ceaselessly renewed. Everything without exception which is in me is absolutely valueless; and, among the gifts which have come to me from elsewhere, everything which I appropriate becomes valueless immediately I do so.

Perfect joy excludes even the very feeling of joy, for in the soul filled by the object no corner is left for saying ‘I’.

We cannot imagine such joys when they are absent, thus the incentive for seeking them is lacking.

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Excerpted from Simone Weil‘s Gravity and Grace. First French edition 1947. Translated by Emma Crawford. English language edition 1963. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.