Recently a Friend spoke in worship about the Parable of the Prodigal Son, marveling at the love of the father who rejoiced in the return of his wayward son and did not hold the son’s wrongdoing against him. Other ministry, including mine, was inspired in part by the Friend’s words. In what follows, I’ll try to reconstruct my message — with some rough edges smoothed and with quotations taken from the source text instead of my memory.
How might we come to live in that spirit which the prodigal son’s father exemplifies? I think that worship is our way, and I want to explore that by way of some words from the French philosopher and mystic, Simone Weil.
This past semester, I attended a course on Trinitarian theology at St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute. The course was academically sound and intellectually stimulating, but of the dozen or so exegetes and theologians whom we read, I must say that, to borrow words from George Fox, ‘there was none among them all that could speak to my [spiritual] condition.’ Mostly, they seemed to be speaking to each other, and what they seemed to be saying was, ‘I’m smarter than you are.’ Not long after the course had ended, though, I happened to come across a beautiful theopoetic reflection on the Trinitarian theme while reading the notebooks — unpublished during her lifetime — of Simone Weil.
She wrote, ‘The Father is creation of being, the Son is renunciation of being; this double pulsation is one single act which is Love or Spirit. When humility gives us a part in it, the Trinity is in us.’
For Weil and other mystics, this humility is not another virtue to be added to our list of accomplishments, but a matter of recognizing and accepting our essential nothingness. I almost said ‘simply a matter of …,’ but it may not seem at all simple, because both nature and nurture lead us to repress that realization. Yet it is by that most fundamental honesty and acceptance, Weil tells us, that we are able to share in the inner life of God, the paradoxical double movement of love.
The passage continues, ‘This exchange of love between the Father and the Son passes through the creation. All we are asked to do is consent to its passing through. We are nothing else but this consent.’
Our tradition tells us that the love which we naturally and unconsciously repress will rise and grow of itself if only we stop holding it down or treading on it. In one double movement, we consent to love’s passing through us by acknowledging that what has been repressing it has, in itself, been nothing all along. In that humility, we become subjects in whom the ‘single act which is Love or Spirit’ is being accomplished: ‘the Trinity is in us.’
Earlier, Weil had written that ‘There is no attitude of greater humility than to wait in silence and patience.’ What we do here together in worship, this silent and patient waiting in radical honesty, is consent to the Spirit, the divine life of love, in us.
NOTE: The quotations above are from Simone Weil, First and Last Notebooks: Supernatural Knowledge (Wipf and Stock, 2015), pp. 101, 102. Following is a related passage from Weil’s Gravity and Grace: “[Christ] emptied himself of his divinity. We should empty ourselves of the false divinity with which we were born. Once we have understood we are nothing, the object of all our eﬀorts is to become nothing. It is for this that we suﬀer with resignation, it is for this that we act, it is for this that we pray. May God grant me to become nothing. In so far as I become nothing, God loves himself through me.” (2003 e-edition, p. 33, emphasis original)