GATHERING MUSIC Basse et Dessus de Trompette Clérambault
WELCOME and ANNOUNCEMENTS
LIGHTING THE PEACE CANDLE
A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires—that enter like rivers into the ocean which is ever being filled but is always still—can alone achieve peace, and not the person who strives to satisfy such desires.
Bhagavad-Gita, Hindu Scripture
PRELUDE Feuilles Volantes #1 Duparc
OPENING DEVOTION Simone Weil,1909-1943
God rewards the soul that thinks of God with attention and love, and God rewards it by exercising a compulsion upon it. . . . We have to abandon ourselves to the pressure, to run to the exact spot whither it impels us and not go one step further, even in the direction of what is good.
MUSIC Il Pleut Bergère French folk song
Let us prepare ourselves for the word of God as it comes to us in the reading of Holy Scripture. Our hearts and minds are open.
Luke 9:23-25 and John 12:24
For the word of God in scripture, for the word of God among us, for the word of God within us. Thanks be to God.
MYSTIC READING Simone Weil
REFLECTION Simone Weil
Simone Weil remembers a story that her mother told to her when she was 4 as she was recovering from an operation for appendicitis. The story is called Marie in gold and Marie in tar. A little girl was sent by her stepmother into the forest. She reached a house where she was asked: Do you want to enter by the door in gold or by the door in tar? “For me,” the little girl replied, “tar is quite good enough.” This was the right answer and a shower of gold fell on her when she went through the tar door. When she got home with all of her gold, the stepmother sent her own daughter into the forest for gold. The girl found the same house and was asked the same question: Do you want to enter by the door in gold or by the door in tar? She chose the golden door and was deluged with tar. [Simone Weil: A Life, Simone Petrement, p.9]. Weil later commented that this fairy tale had had an important influence on the rest of her life.
And that is clearly evident. Weil always had sympathies for the least and the lowest in society. As a child, 9 or 10 years old, in 1918 and 1919, she declared her sympathies for the Bolsheviks. She had sympathies for those who were humiliated in the Treaty of Versailles after World War 1. On a family vacation to the Alps in 1925, Weil befriended the chambermaids, the porter, the desk clerk, the bellhop and other hotel workers. She told them that they worked too hard and that they should organize and form a union. Her sentiments offended other guests at the hotel.
Throughout her life, she always had empathy for the victims.[Petrement, p. 23-24]
Weil was from a well-educated, cultured family. Her father was a doctor. She and her brother were extremely intellectual from a young age. Weil became a philosophy professor at a young age and embraced her vocation as an intellectual and a teacher. But she did not sequester herself in an ivory tower. In addition to teaching young people in school, she taught classes for laborers at night and on the weekends. She devoted herself to the labor movement and to helping any cause that was about honoring the humanity of the lower classes. She wrote countless articles, participated in demonstrations, took in refugees, and was constantly helping people. She was committed to changing the systems – financial, political, and social – that led to the abuse and degradation of people.
Throughout her life, Weil continued to actively form relationships with people of the lower socio-economic classes. And she devoted herself to the labor movement. She took a year off from teaching to pursue factory work so that she could personally experience that life. And at another time she took time off from teaching to work in the agricultural sector to personally experience that kind of life and work. She also went to Spain to participate in the Spanish Civil War. Weil put great store in personal experience. And throughout her life, though her ideas, her views on labor, her political inclinations, and her thoughts about pacifism emerged and changed, she did not change in her commitment to those who were victims, who were treated in any
way as less than. She gave her time, her intellect, her energies, and her money constantly to uplift others.
This commitment can also be seen in how she chose to live: Always in meager circumstances, unheated rooming quarters, sleeping on the floor, eating the food of someone poor, or a refugee. She could never feel comfortable indulging herself or
even taking care of herself when she knew that others were suffering or without. In fact, this aspect of her authenticity and integrity may have contributed to her death. She died with
tuberculosis in London in 1943, just 34 years old. She was there working with the French Resistance during World War 2. While she was being treated, she refused to eat any more than she thought a person in France would have to eat. It was minimal. And so starvation was a contributing factor in her death. Some thought that she intentionally starved herself to death to call attention to the suffering of others. This has not been fully resolved. But in any case, she was true to her principles.
In the preface to her biography of Weil, her dear friend, Simone Petrement, tells us, “To write of her life means to deal with her work, for the bond between her life and her thought was inconceivably close. Nobody has more heroically endeavored to bring her actions into accord with her ideas.” [Petrement, p. viii]
And here we turn to religion. As Christians, we might say that of Jesus: That he heroically endeavored to bring his actions into accord with his ideas. That is how we think of Jesus. His life and his values, his ideals, completely aligned. That is how we, as
Christians, define healing and wholeness. The alignment of our beliefs and our actions. Our journey in this life is to bring together our behavior, our choices, our lives and our moral values, our ethical commitments, and our beliefs. The closer our values and our actions align, the more we feel whole, healthy, at peace. The greater the gap between our moral commitments and our behavior, the more we feel dis-ease, the more troubled our spirits.
Weil sought to close that gap in her life. From an early age, Simone Weil was seen as someone whose values and behavior were aligned and they embodied her concern and her commitment to the less advantaged sectors of society.
When she was a child, a nurse who had been employed by her father, observed, “Simone is a saint.” Indeed this was said about her repeatedly throughout her life. [Petrement, p. 16]
A saint. And yet, what were Weil’s religious commitments, her spiritual sensibilities? Weil was raised in a family that was agnostic, non religious, with an ancestral heritage in Judaism. According to the dictates of Naziism and the anti-semitism of the World War 2 era, Weil was Jewish. But as she points out when she is denied a teaching post because of her supposed religion, she has never been in a synagogue. So, can she be considered Jewish?
As an adult, Weil studied many religions. She read their sacred texts, often in the original language. She finally read the Old Testament and was dismayed at what she found. The God of violence and vengeance. Weil read the New Testament and found that much more aligned with her sensibilities of concern for the downtrodden and the universal family of humanity. She studied cultures and philosophers, ancient, modern, and everything in between. She found beauty and truth in all of them.
But in her later years, she found herself drawn to the Catholic church, a core component of French culture. She liked to visit churches. She adored Gregorian chant and made the effort to hear this haunting music especially on holy days like Easter. Weil had three intense mystical experiences that solidified her commitment to Catholicism. She experienced the presence of Christ. She was moved by the crucifixion and the passion of Christ and was envious that Christ was given the opportunity to suffer for others in that way. She recited the Savior’s Prayer, in Greek, each day and found her spirit transformed. She engaged in spiritual direction with a Catholic priest who became a dear friend.
And yet. Weil was never officially baptized. She never joined the Catholic church. And thus was never welcome to partake in the sacrament of holy communion though she longed to do so, to unite herself with the body and blood of Christ, to be with him in his suffering and death.
So, we must ask, why someone so Christlike herself, did not feel she could in good conscience, align herself completely with the church? There are several reasons for this and she explains them.
Weil was concerned about the power and influence of the church as a social structure. She tells us:
“What frightens me is the Church as a social structure. . . I am afraid of the Church patriotism that exists in Catholic circles. . . There are some saints who approved of the Crusades or the Inquisition. I cannot help thinking that they were in the wrong. I cannot go against the light of conscience. If I think that on this point I see more clearly than they did, I who am so beneath them, then I must admit that in this matter they were blinded by
something powerful. This something was the Church seen as a social structure.” [Petrement, p. 452]
Weil did not want to associate herself with the Church as a social structure that may be involved politically or patriotically, in ways that were in conflict with her morals and values. And this certainly happened during the World War 2 era.
Weil was also concerned that by officially committing to the church, she would be compromising her intellectual integrity and circumscribing her intellectual freedom. She tells us:
“. . . my vocation imposes upon me the necessity of remaining outside the Church, without so much as committing myself in any way, even implicitly, to her or to the dogmas of Christianity, in any case for as long as I am not quite incapable of intellectual work. And that is in order that I may serve God and the Christian faith in the realm of the intelligence. The degree of intellectual honesty
that is obligatory for me, by reason of my particular vocation, demands that my thought should be indifferent to all ideas without exception. . . ;it must be equally welcoming and equally reserved with regard to all of them.” [Petrement, p. 471]
So, in order to maintain her intellectual integrity and to use her intellect in service to the greater good as she felt called to do, she felt that she needed to remain outside of the church.
Weil also felt constrained against joining the church through baptism because she felt there were many things outside the Christian tradition and before the Christian tradition that were of God, and that she loved, and she did not want to devalue them by making that which is Christian pre-eminent. She tells us:
“So many things are outside it, so many things that I love and do not want to give up, so many things that God loves, otherwise they would not be in existence. All the immense stretches of past centuries, except the last twenty, are among them; all the countries inhabited by colored races; all secular life in the white peoples’ countries; in the history of these countries, all the traditions banned as heretical. . . ; all those things resulting from
the Renaissance, too often degraded but not quite without value.” [Waiting for God, Simone Weil, p. 32]
Weil felt that aligning herself with the Catholic church would require her to devalue or discard things of other cultures and eras that she loved and felt had value to humanity.
Finally, it was her conception of the universal love of God that kept her out of the church. She felt that all of humanity was equally loved by God. All created in the image of God. And yet the Catholic church, supposedly universal, defined people as in or out of the church, two groups, at least, and necessarily one of different value than the other. So, she tells us:
“The children of God should not have any other country here below but the universe itself, with the totality of all the reasoning creatures it ever has contained, contains, or ever will contain. . . . Our love should stretch as widely across all space.” [Petrement, p. 470]
She also tells us:
“. . . nothing gives me more pain than the idea of separating myself from the immense and unfortunate multitude of unbelievers. . . .” [Petrement, p. 45]
So, Weil is devoted to the spirituality and ritual of Catholicism, she embraces the values and morals and teachings of Jesus, she experiences the presence of Christ, she is passionate about the universal unconditional love of God, she honors the image of God in very person and the sacredness of all life, she accepts the forgiveness and potential for growth and transformation of Christianity, she values history and the intellect, and she cannot join the actual church. She felt that she had given her life to Christ, or that Christ had taken her life, but she could not join Christ’s church.
This should give us pause. There is obviously a gap between Jesus, the teachings of Christianity, and the actual human institution of the church. That will always be. And we should always be paying attention to that.
The concerns that Weil expresses also concern many of us. The alignment of certain expressions of the church with patriotism that betrays the teachings of Jesus. The cooperation of the church with systems of abuse and degradation. An anti-intellectualism associated with the church. The exclusivism in the church.
The principles upheld by Weil are things that many of us also value. And I think that many of us are here in this church because we are looking for an expression of Christianity that Weil
could embrace. And we are looking for a community in which to celebrate those values. A community in which to nurture and grow in those commitments. We are looking for support and solidarity on our journey as we seek to integrate our values and beliefs with our actions and choices. We, too, are seeking integrity, authenticity, and wholeness. We are seeking healing from the fragmentation, the hypocrisy, and the lies that surround us. We are committed to creating new systems and power arrangements that end oppression and abuse and degradation of people as well as the earth itself.
And we also want to offer all that we have been given toward creating a world of peace and dignity for all.
We are part of a different expression of Christianity. A way of following Jesus that leaves the exclusivity and patriarchy and cultural superiority behind. We are part of an expression of Christianity that celebrates the intellect as a divine gift. We are part of an expression of Christianity that is not limited by parochialism but celebrates the universal unconditional nature of Divine Love. It is an expression of Christianity needed today, for us and for our future. And maybe it is the kind of Christianity that could have been embraced by Weil.
Simone Weil was very much shaped by her time and her experience. She lived through two world wars. She participated in the Spanish Civil War. She lived through the advent of
communism in Russia. And she was shaped by her life circumstances, born to a French doctor’s family, plagued by health problems including debilitating headaches and perhaps
anorexia. She was dedicated to sharing the suffering of others, all the while taking risks and making choices that caused suffering for those that loved her, her friends and family, especially her parents. And through it all, she sought to live with authenticity and integrity. She sought to align her core commitments and her choices. She sought to live her life. Fully and freely.
In an article about her reviewing her life and work, scholar Stephen Plant tells us: “Those who write about Simone Weil (1909–43) use strikingly similar vocabulary, describing her as ascetic, brilliant, enigmatic, a genius, heretical, mad, mercurial, an outsider, passionate, prophetic, revolutionary, spiritual and
troubled.” [History of Western Philosophy of Religion, Simone Weil, by Stephen Plant, University of Durham, pp 199-210, accessed at
These same things have also been said of Jesus. May we, too, live our lives fully and freely. And may we seek to create a faith community that supports us on our journey to wholeness. Amen.
UNISON READING Simone Weil
Except the seed die. . . It has to die in order to liberate the energy it bears within it so that with this energy new forms may be developed. So we have to die in order to liberate a tied up energy, in order to possess an energy which is free and capable of understanding the true relationship of things.
MUSIC je ne cuit pas Machaut
The mission of Lakewood United Church of Christ, as part of the Church Universal is to:
- Celebrate the presence and power of God in our lives & in our world
- Offer the hospitality and inclusive love of Christ to all people.
- Work for God’s peace and justice throughout creation.
Morning offerings may be brought forward and placed in the plates on the altar.
Offertory May We See Your Radiant Face HKJ
USF Chamber Singers, Dr. John Richmond, dir.
Prayer of Dedication Simone Weil
“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity. It is given to very few minds to notice that things and beings exist. Since my childhood, I have not wanted anything else but to receive the complete revelation of this before dying.” May we dedicate ourselves to paying attention. Amen.
MUSICAL CALL TO PRAYER Je T’appartiens Bécaud
COMMUNITY PRAYERS – SAVIOR’S PRAYER
Our Father who is throughout the universe, Let your name be set apart. Come your counsel. Let your desire be, as in the universe, also on earth. Give us bread for our necessities this day And free us from our offenses, As also we have freed our offenders. And do not let us enter our worldliness, But set us free from error. For belongs to you the kingdom, power, And song, from ages to ages. Sealed in faithfulness. Amen.
*BENEDICTION (unison) Simone Weil
We must not wish for the disappearance of our troubles but for the grace to transform them.
*POSTLUDE Prière des Orgues (from “Mass for the Poor”) Satie