There is something enticing about the idea of a young girl who sees through religion and philosophy and straight to God. Perhaps I think so, anyway, because I always wanted to be such a girl—to understand this infinite universe. Enter Simone Weil. Though of Jewish heritage, she grew up in an agnostic home. Still, her writings on God in Waiting for God touched me much more deeply than those of St. Augustine.
Weil so clearly believes in God and yet she cannot bring herself to join with the Catholic Church. She has great love and respect for the priest with whom she is corresponding in the book, but she cannot bring herself to give him what he most wants, which is to baptize her. I too grew up in an agnostic home. Answers are hard for me to trust and I don’t have a future as a philosopher, but questions help me find my own truths.
Weil was very keen on intellectual honesty and I wonder if that kept her apart from the faith she seemed to crave. At times she seems to thrive on that separation, and I wonder if her way of thinking would have changed had she not died so very young.
Inspiration is Everywhere
Waiting for God is a different sort of book than what I usually review here. Although Weil meant for the essays in the book to be published, the letters have a raw, searching emotion that feels less polished (even though the language is beautiful). I wonder if she would have edited down the letters if they had been published in her lifetime.
As much as I emphasize craft in the essays on this site, sometimes the first thing you have to do as an artist is follow your passions. There is ample time for craft, but without inspiration, you risk polishing the proverbial turd. Weil was a perfect read for me because the questions I ask myself offline are spiritual ones. There were times I agreed with her and times I didn’t, but the best moments are when she touched tangentially on something I’ve been grappling with subconsciously. Some of those are questions I haven’t even formed yet, but reading Weil and seeing how she wrestles with the same subjects opened me up to some of my own truths.
Books are amazing and I love them. But when you feel flat, sometimes you have to put down your book and either read something entirely different or do something different. You are an amazing vessel of creativity. Honor and fill that with a myriad of approaches to the subjects you love. I sat through a lecture on machine learning this week where I also saw glimmers of God.
The Language of Faith
Weil has a knack for little sentences with big meanings. In reading this book, I kept underlining and underlining her aphorisms, but even that wasn’t enough to feel like I was pulling her thoughts through my brain and soul in the way I wanted. I started writing sentences from the book and grouping like with like—repentance, distance, acceptance, center, and love—until I had a poem, what turns out is a cento. Here’s an excerpt of the rough draft:
You do not refuse
to accept me
just as I am.
The capacity to give
one’s attention to a sufferer
is very rare thing, a miracle.
Never is a genuine effort
I am tempted
to put myself entirely in your hands
and ask you
to decide for me. I was prevented
by a sort of shame.
You bore with me
for so long
with such gentleness.
And now that I’ve subjected you to my exercise in learning how to use line breaks, go read or do something that inspires you. I’m off to write that machine learning poem (which I will not make you read).
What are your go-to topics for inspiration? Do you prefer materials that help you question or ones that provide answers?
If you want Simone Weil to blow your mind, pick up a copy of Waiting for God from Powell’s Books. Your purchase keeps indie booksellers in business and I receive a commission.
Jerry Soffer saysApril 15, 2013 at 2:18 pm
I’ve been a skeptic/unbeliever since my teens, and the language of faith leaves me unmoved at best, irritated at worst, because it presumes the truth of what it claims to be exploring or questioning. but I am interested in learning about line breaks in poetry. Can you recommend a book on that?
Isla McKetta, MFA saysApril 16, 2013 at 8:08 am
I’m just fumbling around with line breaks so far, so for both of our benefits, I consulted one of my favorite poets, Rebecca Bridge. This is what she had to say, “Basically, a line break is a pause in thought, and sometimes you’ll want to pause before you finish your thought. A line break can double up the meaning of your line and sometimes you’ll want your meaning to rest at the end of the line.” She also says that she rarely breaks as she writes. So I don’t have a book to recommend (for once) but I hope those words will get you thinking as much as they have me thinking.