God in the Other
May 12, 2016
by Megan Castellan
“It seems to me that the will of God is that I should not enter the Church at present…I cannot help wondering whether in these days when so large a proportion of humanity is submerged in materialism, God does not want there to be some men and women who have given themselves to him and to Christ, and who yet remain outside the Church. In any case, when I think of the act by which I should enter the Church as something concrete…nothing gives me more pain than the idea of separating myself from the immense and unfortunate multitude of unbelievers. I have the essential need, and I think I can say the vocation, to move among men of every class and complexion, mixing with them and sharing their life and outlook, so far that is to say as conscience allows, merging into the crowd and disappearing among them, so that they show themselves as they are, putting off all disguises with me. It is because I long to know them so as to love them just as they are. For if I do not love them as they are, it will not be they whom I love, and my love will be unreal.”
–Simone Weil, Waiting for God
Simone Weil was a philosopher and activist during the 1930s and 40s in England and France. A stone-cold genius, she taught philosophy, and wrote extensively on the unrest plaguing Europe. She was an ardent activist as well, advocating for an end to poverty, unsafe working conditions and social inequity. She travelled to France during the Nazi occupation to work for the French Resistance, and then worked in a factory making munitions for the Allies. For our churchy purposes, however, it is important to note another aspect of her story–she was raised in a secular Jewish household, and converted to Catholicism as an adult.
She apparently had a profound religious experience at one point, and began to explore the intersection of her passion for social justice, and her newfound curiosity about Christianity with a Roman Catholic priest from her hometown in a series of letters. And despite his urging her to be baptized, Simone insisted on remaining as she was until she died–a devout believer, yet unbaptized–basically a modern-day Godfearer.
This attitude of hers basically confused the bejesus out of her spiritual director. If she believed in Christ (she did!) and she loved the Church (also, yes!) then why on earth wouldn’t she want to join up?
Simone, however, pointed to a sense of call she had which instructed her to remain allied with the outsiders. Her understanding of Christ was mediated through being Other–first a female Other, then the Jewish Other, and then as a non-baptized Other. She understood God first and foremost as having love for the Other.
I’m sure theologians would have a field day with whether you can truly be a Christian without having been baptized. This seems to be the sort of question that would employ several of the more theoretical sort for quite some time. Yet what Simone, orthodox Christian or not, grasped about the nature of the gospel cannot be denied. She understood that God’s grace and love never comes to us as insiders, but as outsiders. Therefore, as children of faith, we are called to accompany our fellow outsiders in the world, because that is our spiritual home. Not with the powerful, the popular, or the wealthy, but the dispossessed and the struggling. We are called to embody grace for the outsiders–just as we have received.
Today, listen to someone who is different from you–in gender, race, class, or religion. Read a blog, a Twitter TL, or an article written by someone of a different perspective than you. Don’t worry about agreeing or not agreeing–just absorb and watch for God in a new place.