Simone Weil on Suffering and Transformation

Simone Weil, who died on this date in 1943 at the age of 34, was one of the most audaciously creative writers and earnest spiritual seekers of the past century.

In her aphoristically-styled Gravity and Grace, she has these words about suffering and affliction:

Suffering: superiority of man over God. The Incarnation was necessary so that this superiority should not be scandalous.

I should not love my suffering because it is useful. I should love it because it is.

[…]

Suffering, teaching and transformation. What is necessary is not that the initiated should learn something, but that a transformation should come about in them which makes them capable of receiving the teaching.

Pathos means at the same time suffering (notably suffering unto death) and modification notably transformation into an immortal being).

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Baldwin: “People who cannot suffer can never grow up.”

Recently a friend of mine introduced me to James Baldwin (1924-1987), an American author who wrote books, essays, and memoirs on the experience of Blacks in America.

I just finished reading Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, which contains two essays exploring race relations in the U.S. in the early 1960s. “Color is not a human or personal reality; it is a political reality,” he says.

Continuing to reflect here on what case there is for suffering being redemptive without sliding into any justification of (or indifference to) real injustices, Baldwin offers a credible voice.

Here is an excerpt on how suffering can be a school in maturity:

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You can take it with you

Almost everyone has at some point heard the phrase, “You can’t take it with you.”

This idiom is, of course, intended to remind us that we cannot take any material possessions with us when we die.

It seems to me worthwhile to flip the phrase around to ask ourselves what we can “take” with us when we die.

If you think that you have an everlasting soul, then there are presumably both temporal and everlasting realities.

What difference would it make in our lives if we spent time regularly contemplating what we can/do “take with us” when we die?

What would it look like to add more eternal realities to our day-to-day?

“You can’t take it with you” is intended to give perspective and cultivate detachment.

Yet, it is only the first step. The next step is to sort out what it is that we can, in a sense, “take with us” and then to cultivate that in our lives.

Suffering in the Spotlight

I have been captivated by a recent audition on America’s Got Talent.

It is worth every second of your next seven and a half minutes to watch it, here:

Since watching Nightbirde’s audition a few times, I have also watched a couple interviews that she has given in recent days, checked out these podcasts between her and Virginia Dixon, and perused some of her blog posts.

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Having something at stake

This weekend I read Sohrab Ahmari’s new book The Unbroken Thread. While there is much upon which I could comment and that I plan to discuss with friends, for the purpose of this post I refer ever so briefly to his final chapter on death.

In this concluding chapter, Ahmari raises his twelfth question of the book: What’s Good About Death? (The other day an excerpt of this chapter was published, here.)

Throughout this section, Ahmari largely discusses Seneca, a Stoic philosopher who said, “Whoever doesn’t want to die, doesn’t want to live.”

In considering why this is, Ahmari explains:

Here is why: The state of being alive—fully alive—is possible only in relation to an endpoint, death. It is the certainty of an end to life that allows us to appreciate sacrifice, heroism, love, beauty, the kind of virtuous life a man like Seneca lived of the self-sacrificing death of a Maximilian Kolbe. As any decent novelist or screenwriter knows, if there is nothing at stake in the story, the story is boring. If there is no final terminus to life, life loses its vitality, its zest, its drama.

What is good about death is that its inevitability means that there is always something at stake in life.

The vulnerability of life increases its preciousness; the risk in life increases the adventure.

This “goodness” of death does not diminish grief or sorrow, though. Instead, it makes the drama of human responses to death intelligible, meaningful, and even capable of pointing beyond themselves to realities transcending this-worldly concerns.



If You Can Tell A Story

Is it really possible to blog about death in a way that is consistently uplifting and enlivening every single day of the year?

It’s certainly a challenge.

And is it possible to tell edifying stories about the difficult, messy, and painful realities of life with grit and sincerity?

Not only is it possible. It’s vitally necessary.

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Before Praying, Man Should Prepare to Die

Lately I have been reading Martin Buber’s Tales of the Hasidim. In his Introduction, Buber discusses how “the core of hasidic teachings is the concept of a life of fervour, of exalted joy” and that “The world in which you live, just as it is and not otherwise affords you that association with God, which will redeem you and whatever divine aspect of the world you have been entrusted with.”

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