Wednesday, December 7, 2011

On the Threshold of the Church

Copyright © 2011 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved.

Perhaps the best known quote from Simone Weil is “Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.” But few know that she purposely chose to wait on the threshold of the church rather than enter to the exclusion of anything God loves.

To “wait for the Lord” is the advice of the Psalmist. To be patient is to endure, advice Jesus gave his disciples, as stamina is a necessary gift in the spiritual life. And to expect is to watch for and be open to those thin places where we may catch a glimpse of the eternal.

Simone Weil was a young French Jewish woman who lived during the first half of the 20th century. She earned a doctorate in philosophy and began a teaching career, continuing to study religion, especially Hinduism and Christianity. She was a social activist who decided to leave academic life to work in a factory in solidarity with underserved factory workers. A pacifist most of her life, she supported in peaceful ways resistance movements in the Spanish Civil War and then her own German-occupied France. The French novelist Andre Gide called her “the most spiritual writer of this century,” and Albert Camus designated her “the only great spirit of our time.” Her health was always a challenge, and her solidarity with those suffering in her native France led to an early death in 1943 at the age of 34.

In her “Spiritual Autobiography,” a letter to a priest, she explains why she did not join the Roman Catholic Church:

I have never once had, even for a moment, the feeling that God wants me to be in the Church. … 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.
And here she refers to all that is outside the church: the centuries of human history that preceded the establishment of the church, other countries and races where Christianity is not embraced, secular life, “traditions banned as heretical,” and “all those things resulting from the Renaissance,” which would include the Enlightenment. Thus she concludes that she must remain where she has been since birth, “at the intersection of Christianity and everything that is not Christianity”:

I have always remained at this exact point, on the threshold of the Church, without moving, quite still, en hupomene (it is so much more beautiful a word than patientia!).
The latter is Latin for patience, which is related to the Latin word for suffering, but she prefers the Greek (here transliterated by me) en hupomene, which means to “endure, hold out, and stand firm,” a far more active stance.

Personally I have often found myself in that same place, hanging with others on the threshold of the church, the margins of institutionalized religion, standing firm with Simone Weil to keep the doors of the church wide open to all that God loves. After all, that’s where Jesus would be.

This weekend in Pittsburgh, PA - Hear and meet Chris at these public events:

Fri. Dec. 9, 7 p.m., Sixth Presbyterian Church, speaking on “Reconciliation.”
Sat. Dec. 10, 10:30-Noon (light lunch included), Covenant Presbyterian Church, Butler, PA, speaking on “Bullying is Not Just About Youth!” Butler LBGTQ Interfaith Network, Persad Center's Community Safe Zone, Butler Chapter of PFLAG.
Sun. Dec. 11, 10:45 a.m. Community House Presbyterian Church, sermon.
Sun. Dec 11, 7:00 p.m., MCC Pittsburgh, sermon (different from sermon above!).
Sponsored by Ministry with Sexual Minorities, A Task Force of Pittsburgh Presbytery.

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