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Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Simone Weil and the Church Uprooted

Simone Weil, despite leanings towards Catholicism, never joined the church. I would argue that her exile from the institution was not only central to the integrity of her thought but modeled itself after Christ Himself.

Some of you know that one of my favorite thinkers is Simone Weil.  Last night I read a short chapter on this twentieth century French philosopher and social activist by another of her admirers, the historian John Lukacs, in Remembering Past.  Lukacs notes that what makes Weil’s thought so compelling is her reactionary resistance to the materialism of her context and her unwavering commitment to truth above even justice itself.

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Then this morning cleaning out my bedside drawers I stumbled upon a quote from Weil in one of my journals.  Weil, in my favorite work of hers, Waiting for God, writes: “It is necessary to uproot oneself.  Cut down the tree and make a cross and carry it forever after.”

Weil’s biographer takes this statement as evidence of Weil’s capacity to love people as they really are- not as the product of an illusion.  In Weil’s time, much like in our own, it was tempting to view people and the world in terms of “categories” (the oppressed “proletariat” in a struggle for liberation being one example)- to place them in ideological “homes.” The challenge in loving, though, is to disrupt one’s own “at-homeness” in any institution or ideology so that we can encounter others as they really are (not as we would have them be). And, maybe this is a bit of what the apostle Paul is expressing in 1 Corinthians 9, when he says he “has become everything to everyone in order to save at least some of them.”

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Not long ago I heard Morgan Chilalu, the pastor of a small African church in the middle of the A.I.D.S. pandemic, say this: “A church that lives within its own four walls is no church at all.”

God’s mission requires at the most fundamental level a willingness on our parts to uproot ourselves.  By this I don’t mean that we all have to sell our homes and move to the Far East to become missionaries.  But I do suspect that it does mean that any time we find ourselves becoming too comfortable in the church, we need to ask ourselves why- because what Weil is talking about, is, I think, at the core of Jesus’ message to take up our cross and follow Him. Real church as Jesus envisions it, I suppose necessitates our exile.

 

  • Kristina Robb-Dover

    Hi Nicholas. Thank you so much for leaving these thoughtful contributions about Weil. She is one of my theological heroes, too, and I appreciate being made aware of that quote. She is most certainly on to something there…and I’m sorry you had that disappointing experience with Beliefnet. I hope you’ll come by this intersection again any time. Your thoughts are welcome always! Best, Kristina

  • Nicholas344

    Hi Kristina, I was doing a Google search on Simone and came across your post. It is ironic for me that years back under the former Beliefnet management Simone was demeaned and ridiculed unmercifully when I quoted her to defend the concept of respect for life in the context of abortion. I learned the hard way about human nature and no longer felt comfortable with the site. But regardless Thomas Merton did write of Simone that “Her non-conformism and mysticism are essential elements in our time and without her contribution we remain not human.” I do believe that she is one of if not the most extraordinary women of the twentieth century. Her power of impartial attention and her natural appreciation for the unity of science and religion is essential IMO if our species is to avoid its self destruction. She said:

    “I believe that one identical thought is to be found—expressed very precisely and with only slight differences of modality—in. . .Pythagoras, Plato, and the Greek Stoics. . .in the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita; in the Chinese Taoist writings and. . .Buddhism. . .in the dogmas of the Christian faith and in the writings of the greatest Christian mystics. . .I believe that this thought is the truth, and that it today requires a modern and Western form of expression. That is to say, it should be expressed through the only approximately good thing we can call our own, namely science. This is all the less difficult because it is itself the origin of science.” Simone Weil….Simone Pétrement, Simone Weil: A Life, Random House, 1976, p. 488

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