Waiting on God
Updated: Aug 1
By Geoff Foote
Picture: Simone Weil
We all feel left out at some point in our lives, and for many of us this can be traumatic and painful.
It could mean being excluded in some way by your family. It often involves severe loneliness and can even involve your mental health.
The scarring of such pain can be long-lasting and affect the ways in which we make our way through life.
Society has some institutions to help with this, but generally you’re left on your own. Psychiatrists and psychologists touch the surface – and their science is really at some very early stages. There’s only so far that they can go.
Cognitive behavioural therapy has been hailed as a cheap and effective way of dealing with problems, but the shortcomings of this have become more obvious. They can pick you up off the ground, but they can’t give you the life-force which was taken away.
Faith is a way of dealing with this.
A Strange Woman
Simone Weil, who suffered from the most terrible migraine affliction, has been seen by many as the patron saint of those isolated by physical and/or emotional pain or exclusion. Long regarded highly in the Christian world, she refused to join any church because she felt they didn’t take the problems of exclusion seriously enough. Indeed, they could make things much worse – the Catholic refusal to offer communion to anyone who remarries was something which she regarded as a cruel application of dogma.
Her puritanical idealism certainly leads to her being seen as a strange woman as she evolved.
Born in 1909 into a comfortable middle-class family, the purity of her idealism led her to embrace working-class life. That life defeated her. Going to work in a canning factory, she found herself too tired to read anything at the end of the day – all she wanted to do was to listen to Workers Playtime on the radio.
As a youth in inter-war France, she was an Anarchist. Trotsky, the creator of the Red Army and then fleeing from Stalin’s killers, visited her parents when she was 20 years old. He had a tremendous argument with Simone, especially about his harsh treatment of the Kronstadt sailors. Apparently, he really lost his temper, but his shouting was matched by a quiet reasoning.
She fought with the Anarchist militias in the Spanish Civil War, but returned to France confused and lost. She became a Christian after reading the powerful poem, Love*, by the 17th century clergyman, George Herbert. In the poem, Love spreads its table for a glorious feast, but the poet turns his back on the feast, saying that he is not worthy of this. No, says Love, you don’t understand, this feast is just for you.
She was revered by many, but her idealism detached her from reality in many ways. Her call to abolish political parties was very much in keeping with her view of an ideal society, but took no account of the self-interest of politicians, let alone the prominent role played in the Resistance by a Communist party which would fight rather than see itself dissolved.
In Britain during the Nazi occupation of her country, she argued for a parachuting of self-sacrificing nurses to the front line so that they could administer first aid to the wounded and bring spiritual solace to the dying. She believed that such a corps of nurses would stand as a symbol of integrity compared to the SS and Nazi soldiers who would kill them. De Gaulle merely wrote "But she is mad!” on the margins of her proposal.
She contracted tuberculosis while in Britain, and her ascetic and self-sacrificing lifestyle led her to refuse to eat more than her compatriots in occupied France (though it has been argued that she suffered from an eating disorder). The result was a lonely death in a sanatorium in Kent in August, 1943.
* You can read the full text of the poem 'Love' by George Herbert at the bottom of this article. You can also hear and read the lyrics to Joni Mitchell's song 'Love'.
Rights and Duties
It has been argued that Weil was a conservative, because she thought rights less important than duties.
To Weil, we are rooted in a community, but the community is being eroded by money and the profit motive, which leads to individual greed. Under classical liberalism, justice is determined by the price mechanism, while modern science leads to an artificial mentality, divorced from moral values. Our view of rights is individualistic, yet equality of opportunity encourages a destructive competition. She wanted a more balanced society, based on obligations rather than rights.
However, this doesn’t make Weil a conservative. Where conservatives would also insist on duties being primary, they would see this in terms of the duty of service to the country, the Church, the Empire. In contrast, Weil rejected any notion of duty to such secular notions, regarding Empire as based on oppression of subject peoples.
To Weil, every one of us was bound by a deep obligation – not to our institution, or to our nation, not even to our football club, but to each other as individuals. “God created through love and for love. God did not create anything except love itself, and the means for love. He created love in all its forms. He created beings capable of love from all possible distance.” (Simone Weil: The Love of God and Affliction).
Nothing which hurt an individual was acceptable to her. That was why she refused to join the Catholic Church. If a woman who had suffered such abuse that she had left her husband, and married another man because of the love he showed for her, was to be punished, then how was this Love? It was the Old Testament of wrath and punishment.
Simone's migraines paralysed her regularly. It was a genuine affliction. She believed that while affliction involved physical suffering, it was distinct from suffering. God is made to appear absent for a time by the extremity of the pain. Like a red-hot iron, the pain stamped the soul with its scorn, disgust and self-hatred. Evil may dwell in the heart of the criminal, but it was felt in the hearts of the afflicted. It was as though the state of soul of the criminal was separated from the crime and became attached to the afflicted.
She believed that while people may express pity for the afflicted, in reality they despised them. All their scorn, noticed only by the afflicted, was turned inward within the victim, injecting a poison of inertia.
Search or Wait
Her faith led her away from traditional prayer. She wasn’t interested in searching for God. To her, Christ (the human face of God) was searching for us, was constantly knocking at our door, only to find it firmly closed. We’ve locked ourselves in and we need to pray to open the door in order to find strength.
We lock ourselves in, and we are separated from God by an infinity of space and time. We can’t search for him. Even if we walked in search for hundreds of years, all we could succeed in doing would be to walk around the world. We can’t take one step towards God. It’s God who takes a step towards us.
He comes at his own time. We can’t make him come by sacrifices or requests or pleas. The only power we have is the ability to either refuse to receive Love, or to consent to Love. If we refuse, we continue to carry the burden of living life without any help. If we consent, then we sit at the feast.
We don’t search for God. We wait for God to touch us.
Love by George Herbert
Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
If I lacked any thing.
A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
by George Herbert
Source: George Herbert and the seventeenth century religious poets (W.H. Norton and Company. Inc., 1978). The link includes a Poetry Foundation spoken review and a poem guide.
Love by Joni Mitchell
YouTube video: Joni Mitchell - Love
Although I speak in tongues Of men and angels I'm just sounding brass And tinkling cymbals without love Love suffers long Love is kind! Enduring all things Love has no evil in mind If I had the gift of prophecy And all the knowledge And the faith to move the mountains Even if I understood all of the mysteries If I didn't have love I'd be nothing Love never looks for love Love's not puffed up Or envious Or touchy Because it rejoices in the truth Not in iniquity Love sees like a child sees As a child I spoke as a child I thought and I understood as a child But when I became a woman I put away childish things And began to see through a glass darkly Where as a child I saw it face to face Now I only know it in part Fractions in me Of faith and hope and love And of these great three Love's the greatest beauty Love Love Love
by Joni Mitchell
© 1982; Crazy Crow Music
Joni Mitchell is popular on The Hub, and I can’t think of any better musical accompaniment to this article than Love by Joni Mitchell.