Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Great Books
Class X: Simone Weil: Waiting for God

We gathered in the warm room, the dim lights suffusing the space.  Our second to last class; the last time we would all be there (one of our participants will be flying south for the holidays before the last class – the little bird).  We were with Simone this week, a true joy – and a soul companion to Van Gogh (I believe), though their lives overlapped.  Perhaps Vincent returned as Simone, to continue and perfect his path?
The sentiment that most struck me was Simone’s assertion that there is no ultimate justice in this world – that ultimate truth and justice only reside in the universe.  We might have an echo of it in a great judge or the fantasy of it in politics or a mimicry (mockery) of it in the shared space of the “news,” but in reality, we can only scrabble around in the gray world of imitation.  Absolute values are reserved for only two things: the universe, and beauty – that which is an end in itself (unlike all other objects or values in our lives).
I was struck by this as it clarifies our world so much: that we are lost and awash in a world lacking a true moral center.  Religion does not provide it (Simone makes that very clear!), nor the shared public spaces of television news, popularly held beliefs, tradition, patriotism, myth and even “knowledge.”  All is relative, here.  Only “there” – and through the ultimate universal language of beauty – can the absolute be found.
I breathed a sigh of relief.  One limit, at least, is now understood. 
Simone’s path, then, is about quietude, attention, stillness: “waiting.”  Yet, what is “waiting” for God?  What form does this take in our lives?  It is the opposite of the “stolen” grace that we read about in both Eckhart and the Hasids.  Is it the antithesis of those paths?  Or simply the other side of the coin? 
As with all matters in this class on “applied mysticism,” was asked: what would this look like in our lives?  Unplugging from the phones and simply sitting on the subway.  Not trying to connect with the world around us, but letting the world – in its greater wisdom – approach us, as we sit attentively, waiting?
We talked of Simone’s death, in 1942, in a sanitarium in London.  I assured that she starved herself to death (such is the beginning of myth) – which caused much consternation and bewilderment, as her whole philosophy pointed to the acceptance of the joy and suffering of life to bring one closer to God. 
Alas.  I was wrong.  Simone died of Tuberculosis.  The myth I had created in my head was nothing more than that.  Although I was insistent and certain during class yesterday, today I hang my head in shame.  I was wrong.  I open the window in my small apartment on the edge of Jackson Heights, Queens and scream to a world that doesn’t care: “I was wrong.”
“So sue me,” I mutter under my breath, pulling the window tight against the chill.
We cycled back to matters based in the text.  Simone “always believed that the instant of death is the center and object of life.”  That this awareness would keep us grounded in our waiting.  Also, that at that instant, all the yearning, all the questions, all the uncertainties, all the sincere effort toward understanding would into the consciousness as complete and total understanding.  And then: poof.  Over.
The question for us in the applied mystical arts is how can we expand our awareness of death in our daily lives?  Can death accompany us through life as a friend?  Not as a threat or a shadow, but the promise of something which surely awaits?  Our culture is terrified of death – it is the enemy (an enemy which will never be vanquished).  But other cultures simply view death as a next step, a natural progression, even “as a doorway whereby the lover rejoins the beloved.” (Rumi)
We talked of beauty.  Beauty, according to Simone, is a relationship between the perceiver and the perceived.  “The beauty of the world is not an attribute of matter in itself. It is a relationship of the world to our sensibility.”  It is a verb.  Something ensconced in time, a moment.  It is also the only absolute value to which we have access.  Beauty is the only thing to which we have access which is an end, and not a means.  Everything else in our lives is used to attain, to run, to change, to grow, to hide.  The experience of beauty is the only thing which allows us a small glimpse into (a way to feel) the obscure awesome power of the universe.
Simone takes great exception with organized religion (God bless her).  She assures that it must understood that religion (the act and form of worship) is nothing more than a “looking.”  A completely private experience between an individual and God.  By the same token, she assures that the greatest form of sympathy and love between two people is simply to sit down together and to ask: “what are you going through?”  And listen.  Just listen to the answer and what that other person is experiencing.
Simone does not turn her back on sensual love – at least not, theoretically (she eschewed it completely in her personal life).  She assures that it is a way in, a doorway, a manner to experience beauty (the highest value available to us).  The yearning for the beauty of the universe (not “understanding” the universe, but simply experiencing it) represents a impetus for “waiting.”
One of our participants cribbed off my notes and asked me my question.  Much surprising me, at first.  “I had that question, too!” I said, before she puckishly informed me that she had read off my sheet. Still, it is a good question: what sacraments, she asked, did I practice?  There are some, perhaps – creating things, the class I was sitting in, sketching in jazz bars – anything that brings one closer to an appreciation of beauty as both an experience and an end in itself.  But truthfully, the goal of all these paths is to make each moment a sacrament – to literally sanctify the act of living.  From walking to the subway stop to sitting with friends at happy hour to standing in line to gathering for a rehearsal.  The experience of beauty and love lurks in every moment: it is simply our task to uncover this.
Simone asserts that if one has experienced even the slightest light of Life, after having wandered aimlessly (and perhaps hopelessly) through the labyrinth of faith.  For faith alone can remain unmet: cold, lonely, desperate.  But one must retain faith, and at the end – sometime – all of the intention of that faith will flood back into one’s awareness, in the form of life.  Once one has experienced this awakening, they can’t help but seduce, and even push people into the mouth of the labyrinth of yearning. 
An unusual image for one whose highest value is “waiting.”  But such is the interior life of the mystics . . .
We returned to the core of these discussions: how to bring mystical awareness into one’s everyday life.  Always the same central point: this is not a class in theory, after all.  It is a class in applying these ideas and values to our broken little lives in early 21st-century New York City.  In the era of Trump.
Experiments in empathy.  Listening and not talking.  Believing without demanding.  Asking without telling.  Accepting.  Struggling.  Quietude.  Activism.
Contradictory.  Of course – but what did you expect? 


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