Tag Archives: Simone Weil

Exploring Solitude: Meeting the Crucified One

God is simplicity and one-foldedness,
inaccessible height and fathomless depth,
incomprehensible breadth and eternal length,
 a dim silence and a wild desert.

So wrote John of Ruysbroeck in the 14th century.

God is also a man, whose name is Jesus,

born in a middle eastern city,

of a woman named Mary.

Firmly anchored in time and space,

he walked the paths of Nazareth,

ate,  and laughed,  and loved.

God is also this same man,

now beaten,  bleeding,  and dying,

executed on a cross.

For in Jesus

the Inaccessible Height and Fathomless Depth

had inserted

itself into

the messy specificity and limitation

of humanity,

and consented

to occupy

suffering,

injustice,

cruelty,

fear,

defeat,

and death.

So now,  all that suffers,  loses,  messes up,  and bleeds finds welcome in that dim silence and wild desert of the cross.  All that is lost or broken is gathered and folded into the height and depth and breadth and length of God. Every precious particle of God’s making  is held with infinite tenderness in the simplicity of love.

There are moments,  days,  even years for some,  where the work of solitude involves suffering.  Alone with God,  we are presented with painful truths. We are refined and purified.  We gradually learn to be present to God,  not on our terms,  but on God’s terms in the context of our own specificity.

This is the work of letting go and letting be. This is the journey of ever deepening faith and radical trust. This is the door that sets us loose to roam forever free.

During the observance of Holy Week,  the specificity of God made known in Jesus,  enters into the lonely anguish of surrender to the terms of his Father.  The one who has been surrounded by crowds and encircled by his chosen disciples,  makes the solitary journey into death to return to the heart of all being.

We find an account of this journey in the gospel of Mark.  Mark’s gospel is characterized by a simple,  direct,  unpretentious style.  The gospel has an urgency about it.  Mark’s  frequent use of the dramatic present tense contributes to the immediacy.  The emphasis is on the action – the deeds and words of Jesus – as he confronts and responds to the religious establishment,  the disciples,  and the crowds.  This action moves compellingly to the crucifixion.  The story unfolds in a hurry,  as though the very presence of Jesus has set in motion forces which lead inevitably to the cross.

Then at the cross,  in striking contrast to the preceding scenes,  Jesus becomes the receiver of the action in total surrender.  The syntax changes from active voice to passive voice,  as the Greek word,  paradidomai,  appears more and more frequently.  Paradidomai means handed over,  or to give into the hands of another,  to be given up to custody,  to be condemned,  to deliver up treacherously by betrayal.  This is the same word the gospels,  as well as St. Paul, use repeatedly to describe the crucifixion.

As the resurrected Jesus tells Peter on the lake shore,  there comes a time when we will be carried where we do not wish to go. (John 21: 18)  Then we find ourselves being handed over to our life circumstances,  the limits,  sins, injustices,  and frailties of human existence.

At the cross in Jesus the Limitless,  Inaccessible,  Unfathomable God makes things very plain, very simple:

Watch me. Trust me. Do it like this. All is forgiven. Surrender. Allow yourself to be carried into darkness. There is a place beyond your knowing or naming, where I am and you are. Follow me.

All transformation,  all redemption require moments such as these:

the passivity of the seed buried in the earth,

the passion of love poured out to the last dregs for the beloved,

the prostration of oneself in the dim silence and wild desert,

where all things are born anew.

The moral revival that certain people wish to impose will be much worse than the condition it is meant to cure.  If our present suffering ever leads to revival, this will not be brought about through slogans, but in silence and moral loneliness, through pain, misery and terror, in the profoundest depths of each person’s  spirit.      Simone Weil

 

Solitude Practice:

  • What do you need to surrender, let go of, or let be this week?
  • Not all, but much of our suffering may be tied to our defiant resistance to letting go and refusal to accept the suffering of self denial. Do you agree with Simone Weil that broad social change could be gained, not by imposition of morality, but through the struggle in the depths of individual souls?
  • What is it like for you to shift from being the prime mover and actor in your life story, to becoming the receiver of the action of others? How might God be handing you over this Holy Week?
  • Is there a relationship between your consent to being carried where you do not wish to go and experiences of healing and redemption in your life?

Next post in this series –  Exploring Solitude:  Leaving solitude, gone to Galilee.

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 News for Praying Life Readers!

I am leading a workshop in April here in Topeka, KS. Hope to see some of you there!

Look and See: Nurturing a Shining, Festive Life of Prayer

Saturday, April 21, 2012
8:30-12:00
$20.00
First Congregational Church
1701 SW Collins, Topeka, KS  

Please register early to assure a place by calling or emailing First Congregational UCC. 785-233-1786; info@embracethequestions.com

 

Waiting: The Surrender

Part Four of Four Parts

The earth, muffled with snow, goes about its hidden preparation for spring. Silence spreads over the land. Our pace slows with the burden we are blessed to bear. The angel with his face of fire and his wings is now a dim memory. God has become a long, low hum, a slow pulsing throb. We, like the inside of a struck gong vibrating peace, wait.

The fox in the woods stops in its tracks and sits up listening – still. The hawk on the wing wheels in a broad circle, glides down a current, and settles on the post -still. The chickadee at the feeder lifts and tilts its head listening – still.

Then it comes. Wrenching pain pierces us like a sword in the belly. We collapse to our knees and crouch in the darkness. Impaled by the circumstances of our lives and God’s call to us we embrace the cross of Christ. Extended far beyond our feeble powers, such bearing is more than we can do. With each new contraction we lose our nerve and cower like Peter saying,”I don’t know nothin’ bout no man named Savior.

Now we may recall Jesus’ question, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” And we had boasted like idiots, “We are able!” We had no idea what would be asked. Between contractions we pray, “If it be your will, remove this cup from me. But not my will, but yours.”

To entrust ourselves to the will of God at the very moment when we feel most alone and in the most pain requires us to have come to the absolute end of our own will and resources. What makes such a thing possible? How could Mary persevere? How did Paul in prison and facing death continue to preach the gospel?

Perhaps it was their surrender, their sense that something larger than themselves had taken hold of them. An ax had been laid at their roots. A furious whirlwind had shaken and blasted them. Now all in them that was chaff was burning in an unquenchable fire. Finally, exhausted from resisting they say, “Yes, yes. You are in charge. You are God. I love you. I trust you. I don’t like or understand this, but I give myself to you however you want me. My will and desires die to yours.”

A birth is not something one does as much as submits to. Processes set in motion long ago now come to fuller expression. One’s being is given over to a life and purpose beyond itself. The best thing to do is simply hold still, breathe with the pain and wait between contractions.

The Greek word used in the Bible for wait is hypomenein. It means “to stay behind, to stand still, and to hold out.” Hypomenein includes in its nuances to cleave to God in simple, quiet confident waiting as well as to endure, stand fast, persevere; and it includes courageous active resistance to hostile attack.

Wait in the New Testament refers to the endurance that is given for the realization of the kingdom. It is the basic attitude of the Christian as we face the attacks of a hostile and unbelieving world and as we find ourselves in the midst of temptations. The power to persevere is drawn from faith and hope.

Our wills, knowledge, or technology have no power to bring about salvation, wrote Simone Weil:

The role of humanity is to wait . . . The attitude that brings about salvation is not like any form of activity. . . . It is the waiting or attentive and faithful immobility that lasts indefinitely and cannot be shaken. The slave, who waits near the door so as to open immediately the master knocks, is the best image of it. He must be ready to die of hunger and exhaustion rather than change his attitude…We just have to wait for the solution. . . . Seeking leads us astray. This is the case with every form of what is truly good. [We] should do nothing but wait for the good and keep evil away. (Waiting for God, 195-6)

Might you be entrusted with a task to match the largeness of your soul? Could you, like Mary, tell your cousin, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant”? Is such heroism only for martyrs in foreign lands, prophets defying oppressive governments, and saints whose lives trace truth in their own blood? Of course, not.

“What good is it to me if Mary is full of grace, if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to the Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture?” asks German theologian, Meister Eckhart. (1260-1329)

If you are summoned by an angel, if you find your heart stretched big with some unnameable love with a mind of its own, eat your broccoli. Remember my friend at the beginning of this series, who hoped to live long enough to see her thirteen year old son parent  his own teenager?  (Waiting: Broccoli and Perserverance.) Take your vitamins. Stay focused on your goal. Wait. Trust. It will be worth it just to be around on the day of the Lord, however long it takes.

This post adapted from the author’s book, Letters from the Holy Ground – Seeing God Where You Are, Loretta (Ross-Gotta) F. Ross, Sheed & Ward, 2000.
The Sanctuary Foundation for Prayer
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Still Not Saved?

The summer is over, the harvest is in and we are not saved.  Jeremiah

You might chalk it up to the waning of the light, or to the overcast skies. Regardless of the cause, the change from summer to fall often stirs up a case melancholy in our souls. The shrubs I purchased last July and watered in their containers through the hot summer are still waiting for me to plant them. A year is winding down and I am looking at what remains undone, unsatisfied, and unfulfilled in my life.

A little mouse has found the bird feeder outside my window. He shimmies up the pole each day and gobbles the sunflower seeds and cracked corn. I suppose I should sic my cat after him, but I haven’t the heart to intrude on his salvation with her teeth in his throat.

Autumn’s teeth are biting into my heart. I don’t notice the pain as long as I am working. Then there it is, asking for my attention. A young woman described to me the pain she was feeling as like a splinter working itself out. “I think I need to just feel the pain I have stuffed for so long.” Another woman avoids sitting still to pray and listen to God. When I asked if it was because that was so painful, she began to weep in recognition.

What is it that will save us? What will rescue us from our incurable wound, as Jeremiah calls the distress of his people? Will the politicians scrambling for public offices? Will the latest technology? Will scientific advances? Will new leadership? Will my working night and day save us?

In the growing dark of autumn, reality appears more nuanced, layered, and resonant to me, than life as we tend to live it — skimming over the surface, subsisting on sound bites, condensation, slogans, and bumper stickers. In my fall funk I am suspicious of easy answers, human arrogance, and frenzied activity.

I am not alone in this assessment. People come for spiritual guidance. They sit down and reflect prayerfully upon their lives. They unpack their days and their opinions, lift and hold them to the light. They savor, grieve, rage, and weep. Sometimes they talk about how they do not fit in at their churches. Some are looking for more depth. Sometimes they ramble and are hard to follow. One person sits and simply says, “I do not know. I don’t know,” over and over.  Sometimes they thank me for the safety and freedom they feel here.

I listen and pray and observe the Spirit’s dance in their stories. I witness the subtle shifts and changes in their hearts. These individuals possess that rare gift, an inner life, an examined inner life. They have taken responsibility for what is going on in that inner life. They understand how the truth of their interior reality shapes their outer experience. They are engaged in the serious and critically important work of personal transformation, self understanding, and deepening faith.

What I do is to stay with them in their pain, even when they can’t stand to stay with themselves. I believe, when they cannot believe. I hold up a light, as they discover the healing and freedom that wait beyond their darkness.

Many of us want to foster change in our world and institutions without doing the deep and painful inner work of our own transformation. How can I ask a whole community to change without being intimate with my own pain and my resistance to the cross of suffering in my life?

Thomas Keating invites us to understand our personal pain in a larger context, “Whatever you are going through is your invitation to participate in the redemption of the world.” The implication here is that healing for us all is made available through how we as individuals respond to the pain in our lives. This redemptive, life giving power of suffering love is modeled for us by Jesus.

The French activist and mystic, Simone Weil, writing in the late 1930s, observed that “The moral revival that certain people wish to pose will be much worse than the condition it is meant to cure.  If our present suffering ever leads to revival, this will not be brought about through slogans, but in silence and moral loneliness, through pain, misery and terror, in the profoundest depths of each man’s spirit.”

We are all trying to get by the best we can, taking our harvest where we find it. We are still not saved. The cat lurks. The market falls. You can’t find a job.

Perhaps what is called for in this waning of the light is the ability to be compassionately present to our collective suffering with love and faith. Could we not trust that out of the profoundest depths of our spirits, as we die to ourselves and the way we want things to be, unimaginable new life is already putting out tiny rootlets, waiting to emerge in some distant spring?

If you can’t believe that, I do not fault you.
We all have days like that. Besides, it’s autumn.

In the mean time, lean on me.


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Paying Attention and Taking Your Time

leaves in sunA thousand shades of green hold me enthralled.  The south wind teases up the glossy leaves, revealing their pale undersides. I find enough of God in a maple leaf to keep me occupied with wonder for a couple of centuries.

 Today the praying life consists of a continuous loving look at the universe. Prayer is a long wonder-filled gaze upon things as they unfold. The praying life is a front row ticket to the greatest show on earth. Okay. Sometimes I nap, complain, go out for popcorn, or dally in the restroom combing my hair. Sometimes I get self absorbed and miss whole acts, and then have to nudge my neighbor and whisper, “What did he say? When did she die? I didn’t know there was a war!”

In its simplest sense prayer is as an act of paying attention. The word the writers of the Greek scriptures used for prayer is proseuche, which means to turn toward God with a request. In order to get my need met, I shift my attention to God. Our word attention comes from the Latin ad tenderer (from which we also get tendon and tension) which adds the notion of stretching toward something beyond us.

Simone Weil wrote that prayer “is the orientation of all the attention of which the soul is capable toward God.” In prayer I bestow upon God the gift of my eyes, my mind, my awareness, my being at this moment. So Holiness gets our attention by creating in us desire and need? Interesting, huh?

To understand prayer as looking at or paying attention to God, means one must deal with the fact that we are all blind as bats and struggle to see what is really going on. We have cataracts, myopia, far sightedness. We squint through the dim filters of our prejudices, opinions, fears, and fantasies.

Jesus seemed to recognize this and a good deal of his message was about opening the eyes of the blind and teaching his followers to see with the eyes of faith. Such prayerful seeing is not easy. The poet John Moffit offers some instructions:

To look at any thing, Forest floor Montana
If you would know that thing,
You must look at it long:
To look at this green and say,
“I have seen spring in these Woods,”
will not do – you must
Be the thing you see:
You must be the dark snakes of
Stems and ferny plumes of leaves,
You must enter in
To the small silences between
The leaves,
You must take your time
And touch the very peace
They issue from.

 Must I become what I want to know, or see, or heal, or change? We protest. Oh please, no. That is too hard. I have my needs, you know. I have my point of view. I have these closely held beliefs.  Let’s make an argument for why this situation or person needs to change. Can’t we use persuasion, branding, marketing, scientific research, polls, and the press of public opinion? Can’t we ask God to just fix these things, these people? Now!

Nope. The poet says you must take your time. You must look at the poor long, the imprisoned long, our enemies long, our failures long. We must be the thing we see, enter into the dark realities of life in a refugee camp, and the chaotic tension and anxiety of our nation. We must be willing to love and  to become the thing we long to liberate –

             as God was willing to do for us.

 In my experience it takes strength and faith to enter into another’s reality and not be overcome by it, or to lose myself in it. We may become bitter, cynical, even abused by such experiences. We may become infected with the disease we are trying to relieve. We end up offering the other only a mirror version of his or her own dilemma. We become part of the problem we are trying to soothe.

Forest floor MontanaSimone Weil continues, “Not only does the love of God have attention for its substance; the love of neighbor, which we know to be the same love, is made of this same substance. Those who are unhappy have no need for anything in this world but people capable of giving them their attention. The capacity to give one’s attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle. . . .  The soul empties itself of all its own contents in order to receive into itself the being it is looking at, just as he is, in all his truth. Only he who is capable of attention can do this.”

When our attentiveness invites us “to enter into the small silences” and to “take our time and touch the Peace” from which all life issues, we find ourselves in union with that Peace. Our sacrificial gift of attention to another awakens the life of God in the other. That life may be dormant, deeply hidden, frightened, or wounded. Our prayerful attention extends a hand and bids the slumbering Peace in the other to rise up and walk.

God is paying attention to us in Jesus Christ. How could Jesus enter so deeply into our reality and suffering without being overcome by it? As I watch Jesus move through the Gospels it seems to me that he never loses his attentiveness to the Peace from which he issues, his Father in Heaven, and his identity as the beloved child. Perhaps for us to be agents of transformation in our prayer and relationships, we must possess a deep attentiveness to where we come from, and a sense of ourselves as deeply loved by God. This ongoing communion with our Source -our Father, our Mother in Heaven- gives us the freedom, the strength, and the safety to be channels of divine love and healing without harming ourselves or others. For to me little is more fierce or tender than the unfolding of the ferny plume of a mortal soul.

So I pray as I watch the maple leaves dance in the wind.
I take my time.
I aim for the Peace we issue from.
I meet you there.

 sanctuary-tree-tiny1

Simone Weil, Waiting for God, Harper Colophon, 1951,p 105, 114-115
John Moffitt,  Teaching With Fire, edited by S. M. Intrator and M. Scribner