The Book: Simone Weil, WAITING FOR GOD. Perennial trade paperback reprint, 2001 (fourth printing). Very good condition; pages are slightly age-browned, book shows evidence of having been read.
First read: 2004
Owned since: 2004
Simone Weil (1909-1943) was a mathematician and philosopher who became one of the greatest Christian mystics of the 20th century. Although she never consented to baptism in the Catholic church, her religious education was Catholic, and her writings are very much in the tradition of Catholic existential thought.
A committed socialist who took things to extremes, she must have been rather difficult in real life. She insisted on doing the work of farm laborers in the fields, and workers in the Renault factory, although she was not physically strong and might even have made her colleagues' work harder. Run down and sick, she was hospitalized in England, but refused to eat more than the rations allowed people in occupied France -- so she died at the age of 34, officially of starvation and exhaustion, but really of stubbornness.
But oh, her mind, and oh, her faith. I first read excerpts from her writings in high school, and came across a few others in college, but didn't find this book until the summer of 2004, as I was trying to leave Los Angeles. Michael Gruber's brilliant thriller Valley of Bones is about a religious woman who is inspired by Simone Weil, and that sent me back to look for the original writings. I bought this book and two others at Dutton's in Brentwood, a treasure house of books that is closing at the end of next month.
This small book is the best introduction to Simone Weil's work. It's not only the shortest, it's the easiest to read, as it's a series of letters, a short "spiritual autobiography," and a set of essays about the nature of our relationship to God, God's relationship to us, and our duties to each other. Weil says that the love of God is indistinguishable from our love of neighbor, our love of the world, and our ability to be friends with each other.
Friendship, to Weil, was the greatest miracle of all, "by which a person consents to view from a certain distance, and without coming any nearer, the very being who is as necessary as food... It is impossible for two human beings to be one while scrupulously respecting the distance that separates them, unless God is present in each of them. The point at which parallels meet is infinity."
During the weeks when I was homeless, I was often too anxious to be able to pay attention to a story -- but I could pick up this book, open it anywhere, and read until the power of Weil's reasoning popped something in my brain.
Five Random Songs
"New Breed," The Pietasters. Washington, DC-based ska-punk, circa 1997. Man, these guys put on a great live show, back in the day. I think this CD was a gift from my brother Ed, but I know he's the one who first took me to see them. Anyone know if they're still performing?
"The Valley of Malls," Fountains of Wayne. We have a '90s alternative theme starting ... smart pop-rock by the guys who wrote the music for the movie That Thing You Do.
"Little Child," The Smithereens. More '90s pop rock! This is a cut from a genius concept album: the Smithereens re-recorded the Beatles' first American album, Meet the Beatles, as Meet the Smithereens. It's great; thanks to my friend Tom for making sure I heard it. Mom used to sing this song to us when we were very small, and when I was in first grade I entertained the big girls by singing it to them on the playground at Marymount Junior School.
"Bring It On Home to Me," Sam Cooke. My friend Gary sent me this record on iTunes last winter, during a bad seasonal funk. My first thought: How did he know I love Sam Cooke? My second: Who doesn't love Sam Cooke?
"Nine Million Bicycles," Katie Melua. Hey, another present from Gary. Katie Melua's lovely voice is somewhere between Joni Mitchell and Dusty Springfield; the music is unclassifiable, somewhere between jazz, folk and pop.