attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity

Simone Weil on her birthday. First, from Gravity and Grace (1947):

Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating.

…We have to try to cure our faults by attention and not by will.

The will only controls a few movements of a few muscles, and these movements are associated with the idea of the change of position of nearby objects. I can will to put my hand flat on the table. If inner purity, inspiration or truth of thought were necessarily associated with attitudes of this kind, they might be the object of will. As this is not the case, we can only beg for them… Or should we cease to desire them? What could be worse? Inner supplication is the only reasonable way, for it avoids stiffening muscles which have nothing to do with the matter. What could be more stupid than to tighten up our muscles and set our jaws about virtue, or poetry, or the solution of a problem. Attention is something quite different.

Pride is a tightening up of this kind. There is a lack of grace (we can give the word its double meaning here) in the proud man. It is the result of a mistake.

…Attention, taken to its highest degree, is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love.

Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.

If we turn our mind toward the good, it is impossible that little by little the whole soul will not be attracted thereto in spite of itself.

From an April 13, 1942 letter to poet Joë Bousquet:

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.

On the Christian faith.

Last letter to Father Joseph-Marie Perrin, from a refugee camp in Casablanca (26 May 1942), as translated in The Simone Weil Reader (1957) edited by George A. Panichas:

Wrongly or rightly you think that I have a right to the name of Christian. I assure you that when in speaking of my childhood and youth I use the words vocation, obedience, spirit of poverty, purity, acceptance, love of one’s neighbor, and other expressions of the same kind, I am giving them the exact signification they have for me now. Yet I was brought up by my parents and my brother in a complete agnosticism, and I never made the slightest effort to depart from it; I never had the slightest desire to do so, quite rightly, I think. In spite of that, ever since my birth, so to speak, not one of my faults, not one of my imperfections really had the excuse of ignorance. I shall have to answer for everything on that day when the Lamb shall come in anger.

You can take my word for it too that Greece, Egypt, ancient India, and ancient China, the beauty of the world, the pure and authentic reflections of this beauty in art and science, what I have seen of the inner recesses of human hearts where religious belief is unknown, all these things have done as much as the visibly Christian ones to deliver me into Christ’s hands as his captive. I think I might even say more. The love of these things that are outside visible Christianity keeps me outside the Church… But it also seems to me that when one speaks to you of unbelievers who are in affliction and accept their affliction as a part of the order of the world, it does not impress you in the same way as if it were a question of Christians and of submission to the will of God. Yet it is the same thing.

Letter to Georges Bernanos (1938), in Seventy Letters, as translated by Richard Rees (1965):

I have sometimes told myself that if only there were a notice on church doors forbidding entry to anyone with an income above a certain figure, and a low one, I would be converted at once.

As quoted in Simone Weil (1954) by Eric Walter Frederick Tomlin:

Love is not consolation, it is light.

“Faiths of Meditation; Contemplation of the divine” as translated in The Simone Weil Reader (1957) edited by George A. Panichas:

Religion in so far as it is a source of consolation is a hindrance to true faith; and in this sense atheism is a purification. I have to be an atheist with that part of myself which is not made for God. Among those in whom the supernatural part of themselves has not been awakened, the atheists are right and the believers wrong.

…That is why St. John of the Cross calls faith a night. With those who have received a Christian education, the lower parts of the soul become attached to these mysteries when they have no right at all to do so. That is why such people need a purification of which St. John of the Cross describes the stages. Atheism and incredulity constitute an equivalent of such a purification.

Draft for a Statement of Human Obligation (1943) as translated by Richard Rees:

There is a reality outside the world, that is to say, outside space and time, outside man’s mental universe, outside any sphere whatsoever that is accessible to human faculties.

Corresponding to this reality, at the centre of the human heart, is the longing for an absolute good, a longing which is always there and is never appeased by any object in this world.

Another terrestrial manifestation of this reality lies in the absurd and insoluble contradictions which are always the terminus of human thought when it moves exclusively in this world.

Just as the reality of this world is the sole foundation of facts, so that other reality is the sole foundation of good.

That reality is the unique source of all the good that can exist in this world: that is to say, all beauty, all truth, all justice, all legitimacy, all order, and all human behaviour that is mindful of obligations.

Those minds whose attention and love are turned towards that reality are the sole intermediary through which good can descend from there and come among men.

Although it is beyond the reach of any human faculties, man has the power of turning his attention and love towards it.

Nothing can ever justify the assumption that any man, whoever he may be, has been deprived of this power.

It is a power which is only real in this world in so far as it is exercised. The sole condition for exercising it is consent.

This act of consent may be expressed, or it may not be, even tacitly; it may not be clearly conscious, although it has really taken place in the soul. Very often it is verbally expressed although it has not in fact taken place. But whether expressed or not, the one condition suffices: that it shall in fact have taken place.

To anyone who does actually consent to directing his attention and love beyond the world, towards the reality that exists outside the reach of all human faculties, it is given to succeed in doing so. In that case, sooner or later, there descends upon him a part of the good, which shines through him upon all that surrounds him.

let it all turn into talk

The hills on our side of the river were green, and on the other side they were blue. They got bluer farther away.

Uncle Burley said hills always looked blue when you were far away from them. That was a pretty color for hills; the little houses and barns and fields looked so neat and quiet tucked against them. It made you want to be close to them. But he said that when you got close they were like the hills you’d left, and when you looked back your own hills were blue and you wanted to go back again. He said he reckoned a man could wear himself out going back and forth.
[And a quote from later in the book:]

…Boy, we’ve let it all turn into talk.

From Nathan Coulter by Wendell Berry.

engaged with existence in its fullness

If we reflect that prayer is the highest human activity—the defining purpose of human existence and the goal of human destiny—we should say that Jesus’ prayer reveals more about him as a human being than anything else he did.

…In prayer a human being is engaged with existence in its fullness. First, when a person prays, he represents the whole created order, of which he is the conscious, self-reflective part. It is in the prayer of human beings that creation becomes conscious of its relationship to God. Man is the thinking part of the cosmos. In the entire material world, the only being that even thinks to pray is man. Human thought is the only place where the cosmos is self-reflective. Second, when someone prays, he represents history, which has bequeathed to him the very language he uses to speak and to think. To pray is to take an heir’s possession—by language—of all that has transpired during man’s existence in this world. We are no more able to separate ourselves from the time of human history than from the space of the created order.

From The Jesus We Missed: The Surprising Truth About the Humanity of Christ by Patrick Henry Reardon.

to love reality

Personally transcribed excerpts from “The Wisdom of Tenderness” where Krista Tippett interviews Jean Vanier in October 2007 for the NPR show On Being:

An ethics of desire is good news for us at a time when we have become allergic to an ethics of law.

Pleasure is not something which is just sort of fooling around. …It is the fulfillment of a desire in an activity that you are doing well. …I come back to the reality of pleasure. …Somewhere the deepest desire for us all is to be appreciated, to be loved, to be seen as somebody of value … not to be admired. When you admire people, you put them on pedestals. When you love somebody, you want to be with them. …The cry of God is also the cry of ‘Do you love me?’ …The cry of people who have been wounded, put aside, who have lost trust in themselves … is ‘Do you love me?’

The way that they can come out of that depression is the way we look at them, the way we speak to them. …Tenderness is never to hurt a wounded person. …Tenderness reveals that ‘you are precious.’ …Do not shock or do not hurt or do not wound people who are already wounded. …We have to reveal to them that ‘you are precious.’

We are very fragile in front of the future. …We are born in extreme weakness and will end our life in extreme weakness. …We are a frightened people.

From the point of view of faith, those who are marginalized and considered failures can restore balance to our world. …If you take time with people at the bottom of the pyramid, there are people who relate. What they want is … love, not power.

It’s a suffering body which brings us together. It’s our attention to the body. …What is important is to see that the body is well. …It’s to communicate to them through the body that they are precious. …As the body can become comfortable, then the spirit can rise up. …What they were crying out for was touch. And also maybe what I was crying out for. What I would call safe touch. A touch which gives security and reveals, …the revelation that you’re special.

It’s a realization of how to create a culture which is no longer a culture just of competition but a culture of welcoming, where tenderness, where touch is important. And it’s neither sexualized nor aggressive. It has become human. And I think that this is what people with disabilities are teaching us. It’s something about what it means to be human and to relate and to celebrate life together.

Clearly for you community is a place of healing, community is a place of joy, but you also stress that communities are a place of pain.

To become human means to enter into a relationship of hearts. …I have no desire to have power over you. I don’t want to create mutual dependency.

People can be generous. Generosity can become power: ‘I am superior, so I can give.’ So generosity must … flow into a meeting. …We often believe that our identity is through power or through competence. But instead it is something else. It is to create an identity which is meeting. And meeting is the way we look at people. It’s not just a meeting. But also it’s about honoring what is weakest in the other. …In a true community, we honor the weakest. But that means that we are also honoring what is weakest in ourselves. And if we come back to what is despicable. It’s about our poverty. Even to honor our own poverty, to admit to our poverty. …Weakness can be despised or weakness can become the cement of our bonding. It’s because I’m weak, I can say I need you, I need your appreciation, I need your help. …Weakness is the recognition of who I am. …To be conscious of the anguish and to be conscious of the pain.

Jesus, …you are the most vulnerable of people. And my experience today is much more the experience of how vulnerable God is. You see, God is so respectful of our freedom. And if as John says, “God is love.” Anyone who has loved in their life, knows that they have become vulnerable. …’I stand at the door, and I knock. If somebody hears me and opens the door, then I will enter, and I will dine with that person, that person close to me and I close to that person.’ What touches me there, is God knocking at the door, not kicking the door down. But waiting, will you open, do you hear me. …We’re in a world where there is so much going on in our heads and our hearts. …We don’t hear God knocking at the door of our hearts. …What touches me the deepest is the realization of the vulnerability of God, who doesn’t oblige.

How can God, how can Jesus allow [suffering]? …I just have to honor what I don’t know. There are so many things that I can’t explain. Because explanation is something about headiness and what-have-it in the head. But the whole question is not to understand, but it’s to be attracted to the place of pain [see this song], in order to give support to those who are suffering. …If we try to know to much, it might cut us away from being present. And I believe that the whole mystery of pain, the mystery of people being crucified today, and sometimes being crucified by very good people but who don’t realize it. The whole question is how to be present there. …One thing I know, is that in degree, according to where I am at and how I am, it is vital that I be present to situations.

Conversion is a change of attitude. …In that person who was disfigured and smelt bad there was a presence of God. …If we listen to Francis, he said that when he went and saw these people and stayed with them, he was changed. He discovered a completely new vision of the world. Which was not to become … a knight and to be strong. …He discovered that in those who are the most rejected, there is a presence of God.

The history of L’Arche is the relationship between a vision or a principle and experience. What has experience taught us? …We’re all on the same search. …Sometimes you want to clutch onto principles. Yet experience is saying go further, go further. …The road to peace … can only lie with listening to each other.

Take St. Francis in the Middle Ages. He had a spirit of poverty. And in some ways, one can sense that the institution wounded that spirit. But yet if the institution wasn’t there, we wouldn’t be speaking about Francis today. …It’s very important … to go back and forth. There needs to be structures.

I’m part of humanity. …I’m part of that humanity … of the Hindus who are going to the temples.

If we could come together to hear the cry of the poor, to identify with the poor, we would be unified. …They would lead us to unity and peace.

We are going into a world where the imagination, the virtual, the long-distance, the things far away, appear as close but you can’t touch them so they’re not close. They are close to the imagination, but they are not close to the body. …So I come back to what we were talking about: the body, the incarnation, the bodiness. …So let’s come back to the reality of the small. …With their bodies, their broken bodies. …Yet it seems so small in a world where we are wanting to claim to be big.

The reality of every day is sometimes quit painful in its smallness, in a world where we are being pushed to pretend that they’re big.

We can’t change the world, but I can change.

What I’m learning … at 79 … is that I’m human.

You see, the big thing for me is to love reality. And not live in the imagination, not live in what could have been or should have been or want can be. Reality. And somewhere to … discover that God is present in reality. …That does mean to say that we’re just to be passive to welcome reality. You also have to know how to react in front of reality. …How to live that reality with my own body, my own weaknesses, my own need for greater sleep, …whatever it is, that ultimate reality which is death.

I like you doing it [interviewing], the way you do it.

explore the bushes where the best game hides

If we are honest, one of the truest clues for finding the most important truths is surprise. The real world is strange, not simple. And if we are full of pride and prejudice, we will not explore the bushes where the best game hides. For instance, we will not explore the puzzling, repellent, or difficult passages in Scripture, as Lewis does so wonderfully in “The Weight of Glory.” Nor will we marry women like Joy Davidman, who was gloriously other than Lewis, and not what he called one of his bachelor pipe dreams. In his apologetics, Lewis constantly turns difficulties into advantages, objections into arguments. As he says in Surprised by Joy, if any message from the core of reality were to reach us, we should expect to find in it just that unexpectedness that we find in the Christian faith: the taste of reality, not made by us, but hitting us in the face. In Mere Christianity, Lewis says that it’s no good asking for a simple religion. After all, real things are not simple. And besides being complicated, reality is usually very odd. “It is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect…. That is one of the reasons why I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed.” It is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. By the way, that is also a very old apologetic argument. We find it in Tertullian, who said, “I believe because it is absurd.” We find it in Kierkegaard, who called the incarnation “the absolute paradox.”

From C. S. Lewis as Philosopher: Truth, Goodness and Beauty (Baggett et al) in the essay “Lewis’s Philosophy of Truth, Goodness and Beauty” by Peter Kreeft.