Month: April 2014

Simone Weil’s insight into decreation

Why affliction is necessary. From a LARB review of Simone Weil and Theology


Pascal noted it before Weil — that there is nothing that seems more accursed than being alone with our own emptiness. Rather than bear the suffering of our existential voids, we manufacture distractions to help us to steer clear from them. Ironically, our current age, with all of its high-tech wizardry, makes us perhaps more vulnerable to this danger than our less technologically savvy ancestors.

“Decreation,” the act of eclipsing one’s own ego, becomes, for Weil, the means by which we allow ourselves to tarry in the hollows of our being. It is the proper antidote to our perpetual flights of fancy, our castle building in the sky, our refusal to inhabit the present moment. We are at our holiest when we imitate God’s own denial of power for the sake of something else: the very definition of love, for Weil. To “decreate” is to cultivate within ourselves the capacity to refuse self-expansion. The death of the self qua ego gives birth to a more attentive and compassionate way of being in the world.

Weil’s concept of God is striking, even if it is not entirely original to her, in that she forces us to contend with the possibility that we have radically misunderstood the referent “God.” She challenges the view, popular among many believers, of God as a superhero. Ironically, many if not most atheists operate with a similar definition. Though Weil has no sympathy for Freud’s ultimate denial of God, she would nevertheless probably concur with him that the conventional view of God has its roots in infantile psychology, in the frightened ego’s need for security and comfort.

Remaining faithful to the New Testament, Weil locates the genuine experience of the divine in our encounters with the homeless, the prisoner, the exploited — with any afflicted being. Yet Weil insists that divine love cannot be about this or that particular person. She goes to great lengths — as do the Stones in turn — to say that we must first be attentive to the anonymous and impersonal experience of affliction before we can truly love a particular flesh-and-blood person.


Secret conversations

Garrigou-Lagrange on prayer


In a statement that is both simple and profound, St. Teresa says: “Mental prayer is nothing else, in my opinion, but being on terms of friendship with God, frequently conversing in secret with Him who, as we know, loves us.” (3) Genuinely simple and pure Christian souls have always been acquainted with this completely spontaneous and intimate prayer. A peasant who was questioned by the Cure of Ars on his manner of prayer, defined it admirably by saying: “I look at our Lord who is in the tabernacle, and He looks at me.” This is indeed the commerce of friendship, by which the soul converses alone with God by whom it believes itself loved. This interior prayer, which was so often that of the first Christians in the catacombs, has always existed in profoundly humble and religious souls eager for God. The royal Psalmist was, most certainly, profoundly acquainted with this prayer when he wrote: “As the hart panteth after the fountains of water, so my soul panteth after Thee, O God. My soul hath thirsted after the strong living God. When shall I come and appear before the face of God?”

Living with contradictions/walking in the dark

The day cold despite the sun.

Reading Don Colacho’s aphorisms and going slowly.

God is that inscrutable feeling of protection at our back.


Trying to find a way through the labyrinth that might hold something of sureness, the hidden ascetic practices, the  yearning, the submission to love as agape. Winding a red thread between my finding and  stepping forward in  obscurity.

“The Church is intolerant in principle because she believes; she is tolerant in practice because she loves. The enemies of the Church are tolerant in principle because they do not believe; they are intolerant in practice because they do not love.”
-Rev. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O.P

Disenchantment and  the question of how metaphysics  and a new Thomism might re-enchant reality, as we see differently. To retrieve an awareness of continuity amidst rupture and  digression, to  believe  that like others I am led back to the turning point and see my beginning  with a fresh vision.


Don Colacho

What is difficult is not to believe in God, but to believe that we matter to Him.

Faith is not a conviction we possess, but a conviction that possesses us.

Entering the Easter Octave with joy



For Our Lady, St Mary Magdalene, the holy women and the apostles, the joy of Easter morning was to know that the Lord who had suffered, died and been laid in the tomb, was alive. They had lived through what seemed like total disaster, the cruel and savage torture and execution of the Master. They had buried Him decently and were showing respect to His body. Now they had seen Him alive, he had eaten breakfast with them and asked St Thomas to put his fingers into the holes the nails made in His hands to prove that He was really alive and not a ghost.


Prayer for the gift of stability and  deepening of faith. To remain faithful to what I  desire to believe as true.


Reading more on  Betty Hester and her friendship via correspondence with Flannery O’Connor. Such a gifted troubled correspondent, unable to stay with  the Church, her long engagement with Flannery through letters. even though Hester left the church after five years. That move away from  pietistic and moralising platitudes on the part of  O’Connor,  talking about the mercy of God and encouraging Betty to think less of herself and to persist. In the back of my mind, Betty Hester’s  battle with a bipolar illness and her eventual suicide. Flannery O’Connor’s comment on returning to the Church:

“… faith comes and goes. It rises and falls like the tides of an invisible ocean. If it is presumptuous to think that faith will stay with you forever, it is just as presumptuous to think that unbelief will. Leaving the Church is not the solution, but since you think it is, all I can suggest to you, as your one-time sponsor, is that if you find in yourself the least return of a desire for faith, to go back to the Church with a light heart and without the conscience-raking to which you are probably suspect.”

In the quiet of Easter Monday, known here as Family Day and a public holiday, reading my old friend the French Thomist Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. The hunger for something more definite, something other to the sway of certain kinds of political understanding, a certain loose-woven spirituality — that was  part of what I was searching for  when I was 24.


Thomas Aquinas:

“God is in all things, neither

as part of their essence (matter or form) nor

as an accident, but as an agent is present to

that upon which it works.”


From Garrigou-Lagrange

In relation to God the Creator, we should recognize not only speculatively, but practically and concretely, that of ourselves we are nothing: “My substance is nothing before Thee.” “What has thou that thou hast not received?” We were created out of nothing from a sovereign free fiat of God, by His love of benevolence, which preserves us in existence, without which we would immediately be annihilated. Furthermore, after creation, though there are a number of beings, there is no increase in reality, no increase of perfection, wisdom or love; for before creation the infinite plenitude of divine perfection alreadyi n existence. Therefore in comparison to God we are not.



Good Friday on the dusty hillside

No church open here, the wind blowing, sitting with readings and  solitude that feels more like a deprived loneliness. The world fading to secular.


Yet this has been a Lent of such giftedness and  quite literal showering of abundance, work, connections, gifts, friendships, insights, intimacy with some  withheld yearning aspect of the Beloved. A season of surprises. But no fellowship or sacramental togetherness except in  solitary prayer. What  does it mean to  stay in the Church without  a church gathering present?


“Redemption is meaningless unless there is cause for it in the actual life we live, and for the last few centuries there has been operating in our culture the secular belief that there is no such cause.” [Flannery O’Connor, 1957]


Some years are like this. The churches  shut up and closed,  few able to drive long distances to Mass elsewhere. I  don’t drive because of eyesight disabilities so that is that.


Going back to Flannery O’Connor that great unsentimental mystic, in a hard time:


The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally. A higher paradox confounds emotion as well as reason and there are long periods in the lives of all of us, and of the saints, when the truth as revealed by faith is hideous, emotionally disturbing, downright repulsive. Witness the dark night of the soul in individual saints. Right now the whole world seems to be going through a dark night of the soul.



This wild God

Spy Wednesday was the old name for  today in Holy Week.


Reading about the witty, acerbic Barbara Ehrenreich’s mystical vision  as a girl of 16 in 1959. The older Ehrenreich, political and atheist, came across her schoolgirl diary and began thinking about that long-forgotten mysterious experience and wrote a book, Living with a Wild God, to  explore the  meaning of that  diary entry and her memory of who she  had become afterwards.

Of most interest, of course, is that 1959 experience in Lone Pine, Calif., where, after spending the night in a car, she went for a walk at dawn and saw “the world [had] flamed into life.” A talented student (co-valedictorian in high school), especially in the sciences, Ehrenreich studied chemistry and physics in college and graduate school, a career path she abandoned during the era of Vietnam and civil rights. But ever resting like a splinter in her mind: that Lone Pine experience.


The book is inconclusive and   she  remains  standing between  belief and  agnosticism, but still  impelled forward by that numinous memory, an experience that can’t be  explained away or relegated to some  niche understanding.


Many of us have had  an experience like that and  sometimes we have allowed it to shape us, we have carried it  as a lodestone or omen. I think of the Tudor mystic Mary Ward of the  Ignatian Loreto order. And of course of  Julian of Norwich.


When I think of the  impetus that  led me to hurry into the Roman Catholic Church, an unclear and confused impulse I could not explain to myself, I feel awkward and tongue-tied. Those mornings by the sea, reading  the New Dutch Catechism and wanting to be let in, to belong,  not knowing how to understand some of the teachings, let alone accept. And the lived faith as a practising Catholic no easier, my nature warring with so much, a my personal life ambivalent and compromised, my doubt always  seeming to triumph over  the faltering lately acquired faith.


And yet. That shaped me, that  obscure  and unexpected desire to become Catholic. It was not a solution but a beginning. It was bad timing in some ways but  there would have been no easier time.  I heard Catholic hymns for the first time, thought about my early convent schooling at Regina Mundi Convent in the mission field, I  read Catholic fiction and daydreamed. I was coming into a  new community and felt myself to be surrounded by a radiant and  sharp-eyed ghostly crowd of saints,   saved sinners and  mysterious strangers. I would be changed and  the nature of that change is still a mystery,  a stumbling block, a challenge.

Could I learn something from that  awkward eager convert of 1982? What  would it mean to  go back and listen to her again, acknowledge the force that rose and impelled her forward into an inexplicable conversion, something barely understood but felt to be utterly, unquestionably, necessary. And I was not happy despite  rare moments of intense joy and  euphoria, another story there. I did not come to belong, I  struggled with myself and others. It was hard.




We don’t know enough about the experiences other people have. I suspect many people have uncanny, unaccountable experiences that they attribute to something conventional—God or what they’ve been told God is. Or they put it aside completely. What I’m saying in this book is, let’s not bury this anymore. Something happens often enough to enough of us that we ought to know what it is. The urgency for me is sharpened by my critique of science and its unwillingness in so many ways to acknowledge that there are other conscious agencies or could be in the universe than just ourselves.