Talk: All things bright and beautiful?

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Speaker:
Steve Summers
Date:
Thursday 12th March 2015
Service:
Lent Talk: Do not be afraid
Listen:
Download Recording (MP3, 10.5M) Download

‘All things bright and beautiful’?
Living in the face of nature’s indifference to humanity

1)   Introduction

Just three weeks ago I was skiing in the French Alps – one of the most beautiful ski weeks I’ve had – sunshine, blue skies and some of the most stunning scenery you can imagine.  If you are given to finding God in nature, you’d be hard pressed to find a better place to encounter the divine.  However, as much as I might have enjoyed the sense of revelling in God’s world on the ski slopes, I can’t ignore the reality of other occasions when nature is neither enjoyable nor benevolent.

  • 24th August 79AD, Pompeii, Italy: Mount Vesuvius erupted burying 11,000 people.
  • 30th June 1908, Tunguska, Russia: a meteor impact, felling over 8 million trees across an area of over 800 square miles.
  • In living memory on 18th May 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted in terrifying technicolour and helped us realise that we live on top of a volatile planet.
  • On Boxing Day 2004, the relentless invasion of a Tsunami in Thailand & Indonesia killed over 250,000 people.
  • If we want to shift from the macro to the micro, much of last year news was dominated by the encroachment of the Ebola virus’s latest mutation.  Its march across Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea left 10,000 dead and the Western world terrified that the virus might yet cross into our population.

Catherine Clancy’s paintings, around the walls here, highlight aspects of the natural world.  They seem to me to portray both nature’s beauty and its untameable, wilder edge – we might say, its indifference to us as a species.

When we think about suffering, we often discuss the effects of human being’s cruelty to each other.  In fact our daily news is full of it - and we might despair at the level of senseless violence that we are capable of inflicting on each other, what we call ‘human evil’.  We might agree that this is the outcome of humanity having the freedom to choose our actions and the course of our lives; and not everyone chooses well.

The natural world however is often seen as benign – the planet that produces our food and the sun that warms us on our summer holidays.  Yet, for all of nature’s beauty - for every shimmering sunset - there is a destructive act, a violent event in which nature eliminates all in its path.  This reality might serve as a reminder that we are vulnerable and fragile: we can be crushed by nature’s activity as easily as being nourished by its bounty.  This reality might also serve to challenge us at a deeper level, causing us to question the nature of God, or even our faith in that God.

Theodicy and suffering

Here is the nub of the issue that I hope to explore over the next few minutes.  It is a parallel query to the classic ‘theodicy question’.  Theodicy asks us to justify the existence of God in the face of the existence of evil.  The paradox is set thus: if God is both omnipotent and loving, how can evil exist?  If God is all powerful, then he could prevent the existence of evil: but since he evidently chooses not to, he cannot be a loving God.  Similarly, if God really is loving, he would prevent evil’s existence, so perhaps he wants to but is powerless to prevent it, therefore God cannot be deemed omnipotent.

In addressing this dilemma, it requires us to be careful about what we mean by the words ‘all powerful’ or ‘omnipotent’.  The equation of the word ‘power’ with ‘prevention’ is misleading – love does not necessarily mean control.  The kind of love that is so powerful that it allows ‘the other’ freedom to become fully human, and to come to a place of loving without coercion, is fraught with risk.

And if it is God’s love we are talking about, it will have within it the freedom that allows the creature space to also become creative.  Allowing the other to ‘create’ and ‘become’ is laced with opportunity, both positive and negative.  Primarily it requires the risky process of withdrawing from control of the other – of making room for their existence.  This cannot be equated with ‘powerlessness’ or impotence, but crucially springs from the choice to give to the other the gift of human autonomy.  In this case the decision to withhold the power to control, is a demonstration of power in itself.

As we reflect on the existence of evil, we recognise that it emerges from human activity - the outcome of the freedom to choose.  It has the corollary of kindness, compassionate action, creativity and love: for these too are products of human autonomy.  We might say that in order for humanity to exist in loving freedom ‘God must withhold God’s power, or all would be God’.

Living in the face of nature’s indifference

I said that the issue we will be thinking about is parallel to the theodicy question, so let’s move beyond it.  In some ways our question is a more troubling one: that is the issue of loving God in the face of a world that is indifferent to us.  For alongside the wonder of the natural world and the beauty that is so evident, is the reality that we suffer: we are subject to accidents, illness and destruction.  Our loved ones contract diseases, we are victims of misfortune: our homes are destroyed in the winter floods: few of us get through life without knowing misery in some form.  Despite loving and serving God, things still go wrong: we know that ‘bad things happen to good people.’

Facing the harshness of nature’s laws, few would be content to use the phrase ‘natural evil’, for this implies some moral intent, and we know that the erupting volcano has no intent to harm – it is simply following the laws of physics.  And yet we must live in this marbled world where nature both sustains and crushes us.  We say this is God’s world and the Christian faith claims to love, serve and worship this God.  How do we live, survive and flourish?

Loving God

Against this background, what does loving and serving God mean when we are still subject to nature’s indifference to our existence?  What is the point if we receive no material benefit?  Why do things still go wrong in a life that is dedicated to the God who holds all of the universe in the palm of his hand?  If this talk of ‘benefit’ sounds too mercenary for you, why not use the language of miracle, or even of prayer, if that is too extreme?  Do we not expect God to effect or influence the natural world, the forces of nature, for our benefit?

Surely, when we pray, we expect God to do something.  Whilst we might not admit to asking God to open up a parking space in the Waitrose car park on a busy Saturday afternoon, the genuine cry for God to make our lives better, easier, less painful, betrays our belief in an interventionist God - a God who can improve our lot in life.

The relentless outworking of nature’s laws throws the problem into sharp relief.  How can we claim to truly love God, if that love is predicated on an expectation of receiving benefit, some advantage or gain, some relief from nature’s indifference to us?  Love that expects benefit or favour is not love but a contract, a deal or an exchange; and what do we think that we can offer God in return for his favour?  Does God really need our love or loyalty?  And as for favouritism, does God not send the rain on the just and unjust alike?

So, as we think about the indifference of the natural world to humanity, behind it lies a reservoir of issues concerning God as creator, humanity who loves and serves that God, and the reality of living with suffering.  This is at the heart of our paradox.  Whilst we might celebrate a sense of ‘living in the hollow of the creator’s hand’, we cannot avoid our own insignificance in that very world.  The same physical laws that sustain us and hold us onto the planet’s surface, can obliterate us in an instant.  The same grand scale and majesty that inspires awe in us, also reinforces our place as perhaps not being as dominant as we might think.

2)   Simone Weil

Earlier, relating to human free-will, I stated that ‘God must withhold God’s power, or all would be God’.  It is a quotation from Simone Weil, someone who had an interest in nature’s indifference to humanity, which she called ‘the necessity of nature’.  Simone Weil was born of wealthy Jewish parents in Paris in 1909, a brilliant student with a love of classical literature, mathematics and philosophy.  Her studies took her to the Sorbonne and eventually to become a schoolteacher.  She had a passion for social justice that led her into controversy, thanks to a driven, almost obsessive, personality.  She devoted much of her time to educating oppressed factory workers, teaching them literacy skills and trying to introduce the possibility of change.  She sought involvement in the Spanish Civil war though she considered herself a pacifist.  Eventually she died aged 34, in Ashford, Kent, of cardiac failure induced by eating only starvation rations in solidarity with the French people suffering in the grip of the Nazi regime.

She may seem an unlikely contributor to the discussion of how human suffering in the face of nature, and Christian life might integrate.  However, she had a lifelong concern about how humanity should engage with each other and with the universe; and later, as a convert to Christian faith, how we relate to God.  In her writings she recollects three occasions in which she had mystical encounters with the divine, and blends this with a rational and pragmatic approach to spirituality, having room for both the rational and the mystical: for contemplation and action.  She was a paradoxical figure and apparently not easy to live with, yet she might provide some insights that may help us find a way to live and love God amongst the indifference of this world.  The rest of this lecture will explore some of her thoughts.

Finding order and limit

Simone Weil’s elder brother was a well-known mathematician and she had quickly developed an appreciation for mathematics, and particularly geometry.  For Weil, the existence of abstract geometric forms, that we can understand and manipulate, became a means of explaining how we can grasp the existence of order behind nature.  It was her desire that we learn to ‘read’ the natural world correctly.  She gives the example of a cube - we can never see a cube in its entirety, and in fact the faces we do see appear as non-square, yet our minds have no difficulty in conceiving of a cube.  We can understand that the form of a perfect cube exists though we see only an imperfect representation, as with all geometric shapes.  So, for example, the ideal triangle has lines with no width and perfect angles, but any attempt to draw one results in an inadequate representation.  Connecting this, Weil argues that we can grasp that order exits behind the necessity of nature, arguing that what is perceived in the natural world is not a ‘true’ picture: there is a hidden reality which, if glimpsed, can in turn enlighten our perceived reality.

She notes that we experience the brute force of nature, it seems unlimited in its power and indifference to us.  However, just as we recognise the concept of limit in geometric ratios and proportions, and thus observe in the apparently unlimited, an obedience to limit, nature’s order obeys limits too.  In its laws, cycles and proportion exists an order imposed by God, for ‘what is sovereign in this world is determinateness, limit’ (Bell 1993:106).  So, immaterial or abstract concepts that exist in the mind, are the arena in which we can embrace the knowledge that God is the reality whom the universe obeys.

Weil believed that abstract thought has the power to facilitate progress in the material world.  In particular, that reflective thought is the means of attaining liberty within the confines of nature’s necessity that impinges on us.  This parallels her belief that this applies in the political and social realm.  She was deeply concerned about human oppression of others: for in the same way that nature impinges on us, societal structures and injustice can do so too.

The regime that concerned her most was that type of oppressive work caused by the division of labour, found within production-line factories.  When facing this type of oppression, she felt that it was the overwhelming scale of the oppression that made the individual seem minuscule and powerless to effect change.  Here she suggests the possibility of turning away from the oppressive force as a means of finding some degree of liberty.  For example, if I want to knock down a wall, there is little point in standing before it pounding with my fists, or pushing as hard as I can: nothing will change.  The most effective means is to leave the wall, go away to find a sledgehammer and then return to demolish it.  So the power to overcome a constraint by initially turning away from it, and making room to construct an abstract solution is necessary.  I want to say more about oppression in a few moments, but first we need to remain focused on the suffering caused by nature.

The abdication of power

We have considered Weil’s interest in the necessity of nature; her way of describing the actuality of living among the natural world’s indifference to humanity.  Nature provides a distance between God and us, and it is precisely this distance that accommodates our autonomy.  She succinctly states; ‘necessity is the screen set between God and us so that we can be (Weil 1963:28).  God as creator does not exercise his power everywhere; he chooses in the act of creation to enable a reality other than himself to exist, thus God renounces his place as sole reality in the universe.  The act of creation itself is an act of unconditional love, for ‘by concentrating on an expenditure of energy which will not extend his own power but will only give existence to a being other than himself, who will exist independently of him’ God brings us into existence (Weil 1951:89).

God makes no demands upon his creatures, but allows them simply to exist and gives them the space to flourish.  Weil states, ‘Because he is the creator, God is not all powerful.  Creation is abdication.  But he is all powerful in this sense, that his abdication is voluntary.  He knows its effects and wills them’ (Weil 1970:120).  God allows the universe to operate under two laws; the necessity of nature and human autonomy.  Nature’s necessity means its blind obedience to God’s natural laws, this provides the possibility of human autonomy.

There are echoes here of the notion of tzimtzum from Judaism’s Lurianic Kabbalah, in that the withdrawal of God’s essence makes space for creation – it allows the created order to begin.  Yet, thinking about withdrawal, we should not confuse Weil's propositions here with Pascal's Deus Absconditus, which contains a sense of negativity and despair at God’s hiddenness in the trials of life.  Weil does not suggest that God merely turns his back on humanity, but that he is a captivated and absorbed sustainer who, by choice does not exercise his power everywhere as he could.  In order for autonomy to be genuine, God must be seen to be absent, ‘for if God were not absent all would be God’.  In this way, humanity can freely consent to loving God.

The necessity of nature

The purpose of God’s ‘absence’ is that human love of God can be ‘disinterested love’, a love of God for who God is, rather than for the material benefits or blessings that may accrue from love of the creator.  Love of God in order to attain an ensuing blessing would not be pure love, it would be corrupted by acquisitive motivation.  Nature’s indifference ensures that all experience the blessings and hardships of the natural world, regardless of status.  Weil points out that nature is obedient to God’s order, in fact this obedience is nature’s beauty.  It is of course easy to appreciate nature’s aesthetic beauty while watching a sunrise, but what happens when nature’s necessity hurts us and we suffer through hardship?  It is at such times that we no longer see the ‘beauty’ of nature for when it impinges on us we feel wronged, although nature is indifferent to us and its actions cannot be said to be evil.

Joy and suffering are two equally precious gifts which must both of them be savoured to the full, each one in its purity without trying to mix them.  Through joy the beauty of the world penetrates our soul.  Through suffering it penetrates our body.  We could no more become friends of God by joy alone than become a ship’s captain by studying books on navigation.  The body plays a part in all apprenticeships (Weil 1951:75).

In the face of nature’s indifference, learning comes in a momentary opportunity that Weil calls ‘hesitation’, where we are able to pause as we ask the question; ‘why is this happening to me?’ In this moment of opportunity we can give attention to our suffering and try to discover what motivated the initial self-centred response ‘why me?’

We must, like Job, learn to accept the necessity of nature, embrace its indifference and thus begin to see our place in the universe.  How we can do this in the face of suffering (and even under the affliction caused by human cruelty) is something Weil explores in some depth.  She makes no room for self-aggrandisement in suffering and allows no room for seeing the self as gaining any favour by believing in God; as this passage illustrates;

If I thought that God sent me suffering by an act of his will and for my good, I should think that I was something, and I should miss the chief use of suffering which is to teach me that I am nothing.  It is therefore essential to avoid all such thoughts, but it is necessary to love God through the suffering (Weil 1963:101).

We might hear in this passage negation of self and perhaps evidence of a ‘martyr complex’; but this would be to miss the connection she makes with the Incarnation.  The self-emptying that characterised the life and death of Christ was evident in his passivity in the face of impending death.  In the laying aside of his own will, Christ becomes the meeting place of humanity and divinity - it is not an issue of self-esteem but of service.  I will return to this notion of suffering as a place of intersection shortly, but first want to spend a moment thinking about how we might face suffering though nature’s indifference.

Suffering and affliction

Weil, despite her privileged background, knew what suffering was - she was beset by ill health throughout her short life.  But it was a particular kind of suffering that absorbed her interest - the suffering caused by social oppression, or overwhelming cruelty, which she calls affliction.  Suffering is the crushing caused by nature’s indifference to humanity, affliction is the destructive oppression caused by social necessity.  The injustice of humanity oppressing each other is not a method of God’s teaching; unlike nature’s necessity.

The natural world has no malice in creating the hardship that it does, so we are never degraded by the suffering caused by it.  Weil would (perhaps rather romantically) have us see this hardship as being like the pain in the powerful handshake of a long lost friend.  Weil has been accused of being masochistically obsessed with suffering as the only means of finding God.  However, she is careful to balance this view of suffering by acknowledging that pure, unmixed joy is also an effective means of enlightenment, though she is aware that this is just a remote possibility for many (Rees 1966:102).

How to ‘read’ nature correctly

Simone Weil’s criteria for experiencing God were quite pragmatic, she did not view mystical experiences as proof of God, but rather as supplements to faith, love and reason: she placed considerable emphasis on the latter.  She was acutely aware that similar experiences can be read differently by different people, stating;

Two women each receive a letter announcing to each that her son is dead; the one faints at her first glance at the paper, and never again until she dies will her eyes, her mouth, her movements be as they were.  The second remains the same, her look, her bearing does not change; she does not know how to read (cited in Allen & Springsted 1994:57).

As we can learn to read life events, so we can learn to read suffering, and even affliction, correctly.  When faced with an oppressive situation, she advocated turning away to consider an abstract solution that could later be applied to ease the situation, if not solve it.  However she acknowledged that affliction could as easily crush a person; there is no guarantee that progress can be made.  In extreme cases, perhaps the best that can be hoped for would be to ‘introduce some play in the cog-wheels’ of the machine that so ruthlessly crushed them (Anderson 1977:44).

In suffering and affliction a person ideally makes a choice, they can accept their pain and sense of desolation, and use it as a lever to lift them to a higher plane of awareness and love of God.  This seems at first an unlikely way forward, and she admits that not everyone can do it.  However, the acceptance of one’s situation is a cry of dereliction in which the self is ‘de-created’ and the desire to obey and accept God’s will becomes everything.  In this cry of dereliction, of course, is the danger that the alienation felt from God will be permanent and one will be crushed, never recovering from the abandonment.  In this she consistently returns to the idea that the thing separating us from God is the thing that brings us to God;

Two prisoners whose cells adjoin communicate with each other by knocking on the wall.  The wall is the thing which separates them but it is also their means of communication.  It is the same with us and God.  Every separation is a link (Weil 1963:132).

She reckons that nothing can truly separate us from God, for even affliction can be overcome by reaching out to God.  This she calls an ‘orientation of oneself towards God’, a turning of one’s face towards ‘the Good’.  Here is a refusal to lose the capacity to love, and it requires hesitation (a concept which we will return to in a moment), reflection and rational thought - things that may not be possible for all in extreme circumstances.  In the degradation caused by affliction, the person is being destroyed, they have no choice and no voice, being treated as a thing, their autonomy stifled.  In this case, the worst outcome is that the ‘expectation of good’ or the capacity to love will be destroyed, for this is the sacred part of a person.

Hesitation and giving attention

In surviving suffering under nature’s necessity, and reading nature correctly, ‘hesitation’ is a key word for Simone Weil.  It underpins much of her work on relationships, both with God and with each other.  Hesitation is not uncertain dithering when certain action is required, but an unusual response that breaks the pattern of normal human behaviour.  Hesitation is a pause, a moment in which we refuse to respond instantly and with anger.  It is a moment of opportunity, of reflection – a moment of opening ourselves up to another possibility.  It is the doorway into the key moment of ‘giving attention’.

She notes that the ‘normal’ response to nature’s necessity impinging on our life is to be hostile.  This response can only be overcome by grace, providing access to a higher ‘reading’ of nature, a view of the world from a different perspective.

So what does a correct reading of nature reveal?  For Weil, we are in an apprenticeship, constantly seeking to overcome our reaction against nature’s necessity.  We are to learn that the pain and suffering we experience are all aspects of necessity that must be accepted, and perhaps even loved.  We are to become indifferent to the medium and find the meaning behind it.  Such understanding is born of hesitation, and comes through giving attention to God in our suffering.  This correct reading suspends complaints about injured rights in favour of supernatural insight.  She gives the illustration of a blind person using a stick to guide them along the road: what they feel is the unevenness of the ground, the shape of the world mediated by the stick.  For them, it is not the stick that is of interest but the world mediated by it.  So it is with ‘reading’ the world in which we live, we are to discover the supernatural behind the natural realm in which we move.

Hesitation is an opportunity.  We must not ignore it, but attend to it, so that as we develop and change our perspective on the world, we align ourselves more closely with the divine pattern.  This pattern, as we have seen, is that of renouncing power, of allowing others to exist without our control, thus giving them the gift of autonomy.  This provides them the opportunity of freely consenting to God and to us.  So, facing nature’s necessity, we do not seek to avoid it, or rail at its injustice, we seek to find the divine pattern or ‘limit’ behind it.

This divine way of seeing the world is to recognise the unity of all nature, the order that it obeys, and our place within its structure.  We can then freely consent to its necessity.  This initiates de-creation of the self, which, for Weil, is the route to fulfilment.  Only hesitation in the face of the natural desire for self-preservation could enable us to say:

No matter what happens to us, we can give thanks for the order of the universe, our power to perceive its order, and our power to yield even our lives to it. Although it takes great courage and nobility to bear our own destruction, it is that very capacity which gives us dignity (Allen 1990:200).

This way of being was most fully illustrated in the Incarnation: in consent to a higher reality.  Suffering, and even death, in obedience to this reality did not bring Christ’s destruction but glory.

The suffering God

It is worth noting Christ’s free consent to suffering for a moment.  His was not suffering under the necessity of nature, it was affliction under human cruelty.  Yet the principle demonstrated is transferrable, for the Incarnation provides a pattern of the divine renunciation of power.

On the cross, Christ does not succumb to the temptation to lose his capacity for love.  He cries out in his abandonment, but by an act of will, keeps his face oriented towards his Father.  Christ never lost the ‘expectation of good’, and remained able to love under torture, abandonment and alienation.  In this, he retained his true humanity and did not allow affliction to corrode his soul.  At the crucifixion the greatest possible distance existed between Father and Son, yet as Weil points out, distance is separation only for those who are in a love relationship.  She argues that lovers desire two things: to be so close as to be united as one, and to be so in love as to unaffected by the greatest distance.  Christ’s cry of dereliction is evidence of the love of God, and the suffering Christ becomes an intersection of love and affliction.

In this description, I am reminded of Carol Bialock - tortured during political imprisonment in Chile during 1975 - who maintained that the only way of surviving was by ‘learning to breathe underwater’: by doing the impossible, maintaining the capacity to love when all her horrific circumstances required that she abandon it.  Similarly, Weil maintains that in the meeting of love and affliction, the screen that separates God and humanity is pierced.  However, it would be unfair to suggest that this is the only way that Simone Weil conceived of initiating relationship with God.  Through love and friendship, the struggle for justice, fulfilling work and a host of other daily occupations, we encounter God.  She acknowledges the marbling of good and evil within humanity, and outlines the vigilance necessary to will belief in the good over evil.

Returning to think about loving God and others

Finally, let us return to the initial question, set in the introduction.  What does it mean to love God, if that love brings no material benefit to us?  We know that God loves us, and Weil suggest that this divine love, that crosses the infinite separation between humanity and God, can be reciprocated by finite creatures.  It is not only in suffering or affliction that this takes place, lest we think that, in Weil’s rather bleak world, this is the only arena for divine encounter.  If, even in affliction (the most unlikely place) it is possible to love God, then there must be a multitude of other ways.

The apogee of ‘love of God’ is exhibited in ‘disinterested’ love – love without acquisitive desire.  We must love God for who God is, and not what we can get out of the relationship.  So our love for others, and for God, is to be modelled on the principle of ‘abdication of power’ – the renunciation of coercion or command.  This, Weil suggests, can be the only form of pure love.  Relating to God, we renounce the desire to control God in prayer – to command and coerce.  Relating to others, we refuse to treat them as an object, utilising or coercing in order to fulfil our desires.  Pure love is revealed in our reflecting God’s creative act - we are accorded the ability to freely consent and we extend to ‘the other’ this same gift.

Love, as demonstrated by God, is seen in the (sometimes painful) gift of giving the other the room to flourish, although they may not reciprocate.  The other may choose an unexpected life course, and our temptation is to stifle their autonomy by exerting pressure to bring them back.  Pure love is exhibited in that each must renounce the desire to control the other, and give enough distance to permit autonomy, for ‘there is not friendship where distance is not kept and respected’ (Weil 1951:136).  Here she identifies love’s paradox of linking intimacy and separation.

3)   Conclusion

We began this exploration in the arena of nature’s indifference to humanity.  In our scientifically advanced age, we understand, to a significant degree, how the natural world works, and are increasingly in control of natural processes.  We understand how the human body operates and how to repair it when things go wrong.  So we are becoming used to controlling our natural environment, our health, our future existence.

However, this knowledge, power and skilful operation brings associated problems.  We can be seduced into believing that we are in control of everything, and can fix everything.  Recently this was discussed by Atul Gawande Reith Lectures, where he focused on the ‘medicalisation of death’ - where death is seen as an enemy that can be defeated, if we can just throw enough resources at it.  We are conditioned to see death as a defeat, an insult, which could have been avoided if only enough investment had been made.

Humanity’s vulnerability

Returning to the big picture: the natural world on occasion crushes us – those who encounter the untameable fury of nature know what danger lies there.  From the mountain climber who gets caught in a freak storm to the fishermen whose boat is swamped by an overwhelming wave - nature is still too big for us.  Our human advances (if not our arrogance) can encourage us to forget that we are always ‘ants under nature’s heel’,  and we become very adept at insulating ourselves from this reality, and feel aggrieved when we are crushed by it.

It is precisely this desire to insulate ourselves from nature that Weil identifies as being at the root of our problem.  Our refusal to accept our place in the universe and to recognise that God – the creator – is as present in the suffering as he is in the celebration of ease, blessing and comfort. 

What of miracles?

I want to conclude with a question – one that might have been bubbling away in your mind since my introduction.  Is there a place for the miraculous, or does Simone Weil advocate a mechanistic universe in which God does not intervene?  Ironically, her stance seems to me to return ‘miracle’ to its rightful place; taking it out of the mundane ‘providing a parking space’ realm, and into the highly unusual, truly supernatural and inexplicable.  The refusal to trivialise miracle, and to allow the miraculous to be a divine intervention, rather than a human ‘get out of jail’ card - to be played (or perhaps prayed) at our convenience - seems to be heading in the right direction.

Bibliography

Allen, D, 1990, ‘Natural Evil and the Love of God’ in Adams & Adams, The Problem of Evil, OUP: Oxford

Allen, D & Springsted, E O, 1994, Spirit, Nature and Community, State University of NY Press: Albany, NY

Anderson, D, 1977, Simone Weil, SCM: London

Bell, R H, ed. 1993, Simone Weil’s Philosophy of Culture: Readings Towards a Divine Humanity, CUP: Cambridge

Little, J P, 1993 ‘Simone Weil’s Concept of Decreation’ in Bell, R H, Simone Weil’s Philosophy of Culture, CUP: Cambridge

Rees, R, 1966, Simone Weil, Southern Illinois University Press: Carbondale & Edwardsville

Weil, S, 1951, Waiting on God, Routledge & Kegan Paul: London

Weil, S, 1957, Intimations of Christianity Among the Ancient Greeks, Routledge & Kegan Paul: London

Weil, S, 1963, Gravity and Grace, Routledge: London

Weil, S, 1970, First and Last Notebooks, OUP: Oxford