Monday, June 26, 2006

Born to be Weil

"No human being escapes the necessity of conceiving some good outside himself towards which his thought turns in a movement of desire, supplication, and hope."

— Simone Weil

Several months ago, I found a copy of Simone Weil's Waiting for God lying on a sidewalk. I started reading it and was at once taken with the beauty of Weil's faith and the depth of her philosophy — and at the same time frustrated at her steadfast refusal to be baptized. Overflowing with love of Jesus, she was yet bounded on all sides by what some might call scruples, but seem upon closer inspection to be intricate layers of integrity. It was impossible for me, reading her words, to believe that she was willfully resisting the Church; what hindered her entry was her sincere conviction that God wanted her to be an outsider.

Today, I'm glad that I was exposed to the complex dynamics of Weil's emotional wrestling with the Church — because I see her spirit in the latest entry by the Raving Atheist, "More Than Words."

* * *

Some would say that the greatest benefit of Christian faith is joy. I myself am thankful for that joy; it brought me the realization that life has meaning and purpose, erasing the serious depression that had plagued me for over a decade.

In daily life, I find that the most useful gift of Christian faith is not the experience of joy — but, rather, of shared suffering. When reconciling with the world feels like a struggle, then — with Paul as an example — I may unite my sufferings with Christ. Doing so reminds me that He has overcome the world — and that He has promised that those who endure until the end will be saved.

Empathy — like altruism — points to something, or rather Someone, outside ourselves that enables us to do things we wouldn't be able to do on our own power. It is an unspeakably beautiful gift to be able to alleviate another's suffering with our love, and to receive such selfless love.

Maximilian Kolbe exemplified such love, not only when he gave his life so that another man might live, but throughout his sufferings at Auschwitz. He found meaning in his sufferings there because they gave him the opportunity to help others — like when, recovering in the infirmary from a guard's brutal beating, he heard fellow patients' confessions.

Another who was imprisoned in Auschwitz, Victor Frankl, may have been thinking of Kolbe (whom he mentioned in his classic Man's Search for Meaning when he wrote, "The meaning of our existence is not invented by ourselves, but rather detected. ... What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general, but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment. ... We can discover this meaning in life in three different ways: (1) by doing a deed; (2) by experiencing a value; and (3) by suffering."

I believe the Raving Atheist already experiences the first two events that Frankl cites, via his volunteering at a pregnancy resource center. Reporting his experiences has earned him a measure of Frankl's third event — suffering. Whether he unites his sufferings with those of Christ remains to be seen. But I have no doubt that, reading about his journey, I will learn from him as one can learn from one who wrestles with God — and as I learned from Weil, despite my frustrations.

Here is a poem that sparked Weil's journey to faith:
"Love," by George Herbert

Love bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,

Guiltie of dust and sin.

But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack

From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning

If I lack'd anything.

A guest, I answer'd, worthy to be here.

Love said, You shall be he.

I, the unkinde, ungrateful? Ah, my deare,

I cannot look on thee.

Love took my hand and smiling did reply:

Who made the eyes but I?

Truth, Lord; but I have marr'd them; let my shame

Go where it doth deserve.

And know you not, says Love; who bore the blame?

My deare, then I will serve.

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat.

So I did sit and eat.