Category Archives: Commentary

Nailed to the Center of the Universe

despair_3Affliction, says Jewish-Christian mystic, Simone Weil, is like a nail being driven into a piece of wood: it brings the one whose orientation is to love, into the very presence of God.

Extreme affliction, which means physical pain, distress of soul, and social degradation, all at the same time, is a nail whose point is applied at the very center of the soul, whose head is all necessity spreading throughout space and time.[1]

Weil makes a categorical distinction between suffering and malheur, which can be translated “misfortune,” “tragedy” or, as most of Weil’s translators render it, “affliction.” In English, affliction carries the meaning of persistent distress or pain, such as disease. Weil infuses this word with a sense of inevitability and dread; a kind of ‘dark night of the soul’ which goes beyond, but includes, physical and emotional suffering.

What is remarkable about Weil, and others like her, is her ability to understand suffering without the imposed moralism that typically goes with it. She saw affliction as both a function of necessity and chance. Necessity, in the sense that affliction is part of the normal order of things and thus inescapable, let alone surprising. Chance, in that affliction does not have a moral valence. It is random and not necessarily related to the sin of the one being afflicted.

Speaking about suffering is a challenging thing. The minute you attempt to explain it you risk glorifying or justifying it in some way; minimizing the horror. I respond negatively to any notion of determinism, and Weil’s philosophy of affliction comes close to this, as she describes nature and matter simply being obedient to God. She writes:

All the horrors produced in this world are like the folds imposed upon the waves by gravity. That is why they contain an element of beauty.

I rebel: suffering is not beautiful! Continue reading