Simone Weil was a French philosopher and writer of the mid-20th Century. A child prodigy, she learned classical Greek by the age of twelve, and Sanskrit later on. She obtained a certificate in general philosophy and logic from the prestigious École Normale Supérieure, and worked intermittently as a teacher. From early in her life, she was drawn to left-wing politics (she even had an argument with Leon Trotsky to his face when he visited her parents in 1933, when she was twenty-four years old). She wrote political pamphlets and was involved in activism and strikes on behalf of workers’ rights. In her personal life, she was extremely–some might say quixotically–dedicated to solidarity with the oppressed. Even as a child, during World War I, she refused to use sugar in her food because it was not available to the troops at the front. Later, she worked briefly in a Renault auto factory to experience what the workers experienced, donating her salary to various causes. Though originally a pacifist, she tried to participate in the Spanish Civil War. Being naturally clumsy and having very poor vision, though, she displayed no military competency at all, and no commander would actually assign her to an combat position. Her brief stint in Spain ended ignominiously when she accidentally scalded herself after tripping over a pot of boiling liquid, and was burned so severely that she had to return to her parents’ home for recuperation. Ironically, this was a blessing in disguise for Weil–not long after she left Spain, her unit was attacked and suffered massive casualties. Every single woman in the unit died.
During World War II, she fled with her family to New York. She wished to be active for the French cause, though, so she left America for England in 1943. There she hoped to be able to train so that she could return to France as an allied agent. She had contracted tuberculosis by this time, though. In line with her idiosyncratic notions of solidarity, she not only refused special treatment, but she refused to eat more food than was available to her compatriots in the war zone. Thus, while she didn’t cease eating altogether, her food intake was not nearly adequate for her fragile condition. Despite the best attempts of her frustrated doctors, she died that year at the age of 34.
Relatively unknown outside of left-wing political circles during her life, her writings have been posthumously collected and printed in the years since then. Gradually, Weil has come to be considered a significant thinker, and there is increasing study of her thought. Recently a biographical documentary about her has been made. Given all this new prominence, it is interesting that much of the renewed interest in Simone Weil is not an interest in her politics–the thing for which she was most known during her life–but her religious views. It is for these, in fact, that I am including her on my personal altar.
One of the best meditations on the Lord’s Prayer that I’ve ever read.
Our Father which art in Heaven
He is our Father. There is nothing real in us which does not come from him. We belong to him. He loves us, since he loves himself and we are his. We do not have to search for him, we only have to change the direction in which we are looking. It is for him to search for us. We must be happy in the knowledge that he is infinitely beyond our reach. Thus we can be certain that the evil in us, even if it overwhelms our whole being, in no way sullies the divine purity, bliss, and perfection.
Hallowed be thy name
God alone has the power to name himself. His name is unpronounceable for human lips. His name is his word. It is the word of God. Man has access to this name, although it also is transcendent. It shines in the…
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