By Rev. David Rommereim
Simone Weil (1901-1943)
"There is a reality outside the world, that is to say, outside space and time, outside man’s mental universe, outside any sphere whatsoever that is accessible to human faculties.
Corresponding to this reality, at the center of the human heart, is the longing for an absolute good, a longing which is always there and is never appeased by any object in this world. …
Just as the reality of this world is the sole foundation of facts, so that other reality is the sole foundation of good.
That reality is the unique source of all the good that can exist in this world: that is to say, all beauty, all truth, all justice, all legitimacy, all order, and all human behavior that is mindful of obligations….
Although it is beyond the ready of any human faculties, man has the power of turning his attention and love towards it.
Nothing can ever justify the assumption that any man, whoever he may be, has been deprived of this power.
It is a power which is only real in this world in so far as it is exercised. The sole condition for exercising it is consent.…
The combination of these two facts~the longing in the depth of the heart for absolute good, and the power, though only latent, of directing attention and love to a reality beyond the world and of receiving good from it~constitutes a link which attaches every man without exception to that other reality.
Whoever recognizes that reality recognizes also that link. Because of it, he holds every human being without any exception as something sacred to which he is bound to show respect."
(From: “Two Moral Essays” (written as part of her work for the De Gaulle government in exile when Germany occupied France in the early 1940s.) Quoted in Earth Honoring Faith, Dr. Larry Rasmussen, 2013.)
Posted above are thoughts from Simone Weil, written in 1942 occupied France. Encountering them one finds out she is writing on behalf of the exiled De Gaulle government during barbaric WWII. She says, There is a reality outside the world, that is today, outside space and time, outside man’s mental universe, outside any sphere whatsoever that is accessible to human faculties.
One could dismiss her as a contrarian mystic. You may think she is inviting us into a yearning far beyond scientific reality. Or, she may be what some say, “So heavenly minded and no earthly good.”
Listening to her writing some may jump to the conclusion she is speaking of angels, or divine majesty. One may be reminded of the rhetoric of church leaders who told us that God was ‘up there’ looking down on us, and ‘mad-as-hell.’ We are to fear him (always masculine). They told us that God seeks to unveil the mysteries by some fantastic eschatological or apocalyptic event. God will come down to fix the troubled world. We used to call that divine action, end times. Literally the word used for the end is “apocalypse.” It means unveiling.
Rather than a television version of apocalypse now in computerized technicolor, we could begin to think of the end as an unveiling, or a revealing of the end of the capacity of divine earth to feed humankind. It could be the end of humankind other than the end of the world as it is. In the ending process humankind has been able to take along thousands of species in some sort of revolutionized premature extinction. The Monarch butterfly is a species I’m rooting for. They are down by 75%. The present “end times” for most species is unveiled in the present catastrophe of 2 to 5 degrees of warming.
As Simone writes in the 1940's, she appears to lean into the thoughts that there is a reality outside the world making the humans of this known world restless. Could it be that my personal confidence in this world is jeopardized, therefore I lean toward another realm? Could it be that I am losing control of my known world, its special neighborhood? Could it be that there is a Divine power also restless to return to the original configuration of the created order; beauty, equity, justice, and shalom? Could it be we need to return to a biodegradable and continuously resurrecting biosphere, rather than a world riddled with plastic? Will the unveiling be a violent overthrow of the present regimes? Who will be “left behind?” Or is this simply an anthropocentric model of thinking from a species who plays and pretends to be as important as God?
We often think some other power is going to remedy the situation by getting rid of all the bad. It appears, as Simone Weil writes in the early 40's, that the polarization of good and evil often come to the same unveiling through opposing positions. Nazism and its learned Arian model of control sought to remove evil through what turned out to be a personification of evil. Likewise the West sought with the rhetoric of good, to rid evil from the European hemisphere through partnering with evil through the use of armaments all the way to the first use of the atomic threat on two lovely towns in Japan.
Today, America has become a nations of mass incarceration. Dr. Iva Carruthers, General Secretary of the Chicago-based Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, is a leading voice of the faith community calling for an end to mass incarceration. She calls this a “nation in chains.” Where the U.S. incarcerates more people per capita than any other nation on earth. Getting rid of evil is to 'lock ‘em up and throw away the key.' Today our private prisons have developed a tax based income to the tune of $65,000-$75,000 per year per inmate. It has become profitable to fight evil by chaining persons to long term sentences without rehabilitation.
We tend to name that battle with evil as God. That same God we have trusted through a panoply of nicknames (Elohim, Adonai, YHWH, Alla, El, Lord God, etc.). A little less than two millennia ago the community known as the desert fathers lived in isolation and solitude; prayer, contemplation and a new Torah (instruction) focused and Christo-centric faith, working toward building a beloved community. The word they used for sin was not some pejorative moral incursion sentencing you to a life of solitary confinement. It was not a punitive culture (like ours). It did not blame nor shame residents for their wrong-doings. It simply spoke about doing wrong as harming the “beloved community” (Psalm 133). They simply tried to keep from “bad.” That is, bad talk, bad actions, bad.
The story of the Desert Fathers is similar to the second story of creation in Genesis (Bere’shit) 2: 4-25. The story of The Garden takes place when Adonai frees Adam (ish) and Eve (ishshah) from the interior of the garden due to their reluctance to maintain the status quo of their responsibilities (Genesis 2.23). Once they broke their promise that they would not eat from the tree of knowledge, in the process of accountability and renewal Adonai (YHWH-God) set them free from the obligation and set them apart to rely on their own ingenuity of connecting with the sublime encounter and the other, the mystery (Genesis 3.1-19).
In other words they were “on their own to negotiate the ways and means of living in the abundance of God’s creation. They have to set out on either own, without daddy always making sure all is well. They were in the dangerous realm of responsibility. What they did from here on out was not calculated and sure." They entered the realm of what I call the “ministry, the theology, of "perhaps."”
"Perhaps" is when you and I set out on our own. We may find food and water to sustain our family. Perhaps Adonai (God) is with us. But faith refers not to certainty. Faith refers to the great “Perhaps.” You and I believe in the God of Perhaps. The God that insists on our faithfulness and spiritually enlightened behavior. We believe in this God. This God always surprises us with a new encounter with the challenge to faithful living.
Yet, perhaps we act like we don’t have faith. So far God has provided for us; every 'jot and tittle.' But, after our mechanistic endeavors for the last 4 to 5 hundred hears of human exploitation and enlightenment, we are not sure. We have sought to eat up the world. Is it because we worry about our comfort? Or, perhaps we actually believe the faith in the holy mystery cannot make us any more comfortable? Air conditioners on a hot day can do that. God can’t. Perhaps, this was their conversation as they entered the fullness of created order. Perhaps “all that is solid melts into air” and we are left with simply and exponentially, our faith. Faith in the God that accompanies and does not control. Faith in the God that breathes into the empty space and does not inhale our mistakes.
Ms. Weil goes on to suggest something beyond my own discomfort, or the discomfort caused by the rhetoric of bible thumping preachers. She suggests a deep dive into good. She writes, "The combination of these two facts~the longing in the depth of the heart for absolute good, and the power, though only latent, of directing attention and love to a reality beyond the world and of receiving good from it~constitutes a link which attaches every man without exception to that other reality. Whoever recognizes the reality of the good is engaged with the link." Because of it, she holds every human being without any exception as something sacred to which she is bound to show respect. Needless to say that link provides an inhuman enterprise that calls sacred all that is not human. This the deep dive into good.
Through the stories of God expressed through the Semitic peoples 2 to 5 millennia ago, along with those stories of beginnings from many parts of the earth, we hear about the subliminal exchange with the other. Dr. Ulinov calls that the wisdom of the other… or, “other-wise.” Cute but true. Such an exchange with the wisdom of the other is always good. It is always loving. It is always a test of whether the faithful could perfect hospitality with the stranger.
Once we acknowledge the fact that humankind has consumed and controlled the earth's fabric of nutritional gravity, we quickly turn to that which is causing the plunge into end times, or the plunge into a limited future.
Lately I turn to historic genius to teach me how to live through these circumstances. I see this conundrum of evil and good, through the lens of a 1920 scholar, intellect, and spiritual mystic, W. E. B. Du Bois. He wrote in Darkwater: 'Voices from Within the Veil', published after being censored for 10 years from a frightened academy. The thoughts are printed on the second column on page two of this essay. He says, With Negro and Negroid, East Indian, Chinese, and Japanese they form two-thirds of the population of the world. A belief in humanity is a belief in colored men. If the uplift of mankind must be done by men, then the destinies of this world will rest ultimately in the hands of darker nations.
In today’s language we speak of Dark Bodies, Brown Bodies, Yellow Bodies. For my sensibilities, both spiritually and politically, the wisdom of W.E.B Du Bois is clear and resolute. The lives of those who have been kept in a veil through economic exploitation and manipulation are the very lives who will save humankind from this catalytic catastrophe.
In my community the little children are noticing that there is talk of a “Race War.” Two have spoken about this specifically in the public conversation of our Sunday Worship. It is a frightening topic. It is highly volatile. And it is a topic that should never be dis-acknowledged by saying to a child, “Oh, don’t worry my child, everything is going to be OK.” Rather, it is worth worrying about. Public life can go good and bad. People of faith always pray and work toward the good.
Through the child’s inquiry the adult in the room must discuss and act out the full extent of that it means to be a human being today. We must also acknowledge our human obligations.
To be human first means we must be honest about place. The land we borrow to consume. The land we are asked to till and nurture. We are informed through interaction with the full garden (an Eden conscience) that God has shaped. Without that place as a beginning point we will quickly find our pocketbooks making the decision by going shopping. We will then be faced with the decision, ethical and moral decision, of what we purchase or refuse to purchase. This is the most remedial challenge for every consuming American. Each of us must remember that our food travels more than all the jet setters put together. My morning banana has traveled at least 3 K miles to get to my stomach. Love the fact that it is a convenient way to receive the potassium I need from day to day. But I get this 365 days a year. When out of season they come to my breakfast table from farther out. That is a simple banana.
Second, we must observe our obligations. What W. E. B. Du Bois reminds us even today is that the whole of the earth is divine, not for those who can pay for it and privatize it. This is our most obligatory mandate for the last century. How we manage the wealth is the survival of life or the extinction of life, as we know it. Without it we all die and the earth remains injured. Sure it will take a long time to remove humankind. And we will take along with us many species in our reckoning. But the damage will be painful and irreconcilable.
We will contribute to the demise by sophisticated drone wars and poverty belts subsuming lives and killing folks through hoarding resources. A few have perfected hoarding. Each of us is good at it. So the end of humankind will take some time, but without our obligations we will enhance the process. As a white man, a Christian leader, and a pastor, it is important for me to come to terms with and be clear that I have received benefits Dark Bodies have not. Once I do that I begin to reconcile and place myself before the living God that stands for no nonsense, no bitterness, no deceit. This is the God of truth and we are expected to be free with it.
Perhaps even the ‘canoeing in the fog’ photo that my friend, Dr. Arne, took of my son and myself can represent the holy mystery of the great emergence of the recovery of race, nationality and humanity, and the species' among which we live. We may not see beyond the fog but we know we must row into it with confidence. It is at that point we are obligated - when we do the deep dive into the good.
Rev. David H. Rommereim