Wednesday, March 26, 2008

WAITING FOR GOD by Simone Weil

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.


guyot said...

Just one of those weird little moments in life - I'm listening to the Smithereens as I travel to your blog.

Larry said...

A few belated thoughts:

Yesterday's comments about it all being about community seems to conflict with the later statement that living in Gardiner has it challenges... "The larger world is far away -"

I'll suggest that while Gardiner is not NY, Chicago, or LA, a small community provides a greater insight to "community." A large city may not allow for knowing the neighbors, and through open windows, sharing in their lives. Small communities provide it all; the good, the bad, the ugly, the weird, the timid, the shy, out going, etc. In a small community they all have to live and function together. Not so in a more spacious environment where we can put distance between those we are uncomfortable to be around. The CITY may help to explain the disconnect we are experiencing in our culture.

Enjoy the coming spring with your windows wide open.

AnswerGirl said...

Of course. That's why I live here, because I wanted that experience. You're underlining the obvious, or at least what's obvious to me.

For all those benefits, I still wish we had a movie theater, a bookstore and more than one bar.

Tom Ehrenfeld said...

Great tunes. Man do I love Fountains of Wayne as the Wonders in That Thing You Do. The movie basically IS the song, which gets played about 48 or 49 times throughout, and frankly I only got a bit tired of the song the 5th or 6th time I saw the movie. Also there's a great song in it called Dance With Me Tonight that rocks.

I've been listening to Sam Cooke a lot recently--you should get the album of his gospel work with the Soul Stirrers. Wow, talk about gorgeous singing.

AnswerGirl said...

I have the Soul Stirrers! My mom loved them.

larry said...

Stating the obvious is something I do well... and the world can always use another bar.

deliciousmelissa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
deliciousmelissa said...

hi ellen,
i am just about to read "waiting for god" with a group of folks from mosaic, my church. i'm pretty stoked about it. think this could change my life. i tried not to read much of your writing about it because i don't want to spoil the surprise. =0) i'll try to write again when i am in the middle/finished to discuss it with ya, sounds like you really enjoyed it.