Friday, June 24, 2011

Weil on the hammer-and-nail of affliction

"When we hit a nail with a hammer, the whole of the shock received by the large head of the nail passes into the point without any of it being lost, although it is only a point. . . .
"Extreme affliction, which means physical pain, distress of soul and social degradation, all at the same time, constitutes the nail.  The point is applied at the very centre of the soul.  The head of the nail is all the necessity which spreads throughout the totality of space and time.
"Affliction is a marvel of divine technique.  It is a simple and ingenious device which introduces into the soul of a finite creature the immensity of force, blind, brutal and cold.  The infinite distance which separates God from the creature is entirely concentrated into one point to pierce the soul in its centre.
"The man to whom such a thing happens has no part in the operation.  He struggles like a butterfly which is pinned alive into an album.  But through all the horror he can continue to want to love.  There is nothing impossible in that, no obstacle, one might almost say no difficulty.  For the greatest suffering, so long as it does not cause fainting, does not touch the part of the soul which consents to a right direction.
"It is only necessary to know that love is a direction and not a state of the soul.  If one is unaware of this, one falls into despair at the first onslaught of affliction.
"He whose soul remains ever turned in the direction of God while the nail [of affliction] pierces it, finds himself nailed onto the very centre of the universe.  It is the true centre, it is not in the middle, it is beyond space and time, it is God.  In a dimension which does not belong to space, which is not time, which is indeed quite a different dimension, this nail has pierced a hole through all creation, through the thickness of the screen which separates the soul from God.
"In this marvellous dimension, the soul, without leaving the place and the instant where the body to which it is united is situated, can cross the totality of space and time and come into the very presence of God."

Simone Weil, "The love of God and affliction" (1942), in Waiting on God, trans. Emma Craufurd (London:  Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, 1951), 78 (63-78) = "L'amour de Dieu et le malheur," in Attente de Dieu, ed. Joseph-Marie Perrin (Paris:  La Colombe, 1950), and Pensées sans ordre concernant l'amour de Dieu (Paris:  Gallimard, 1962), 104-105 (85-105).  I quote this knowing full well that I am among those who haven't known even pain (douleur) and suffering (souffrance), let alone affliction (malheur):  "those who have never had contact with affliction in its true sense can have no idea of what it is, even though they may have suffered a great deal."  For this reason, "compassion for the afflicted is an impossibility.  When it is really found we have a more astounding miracle than walking on water, healing the sick, or even raising the dead" (65).  Indeed, "Except for those whose whole soul is inhabited by Christ, everybody despises the afflicted to some extent" (67, italics mine).

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