Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 807
Weil’s tone appears to be highly philosophical upon an initial reading, but it does take cohesive form as her subject progresses. The central issue is the battle between good and evil. Gravity and Grace addresses the common teachings of Christianity, but it also condones the human tendency to sin. This seems contradictory, yet Weil argues that it is only through sin that one can acknowledge the existence of God. This duality is acceptable to her, because “Contradiction alone is proof that we are not everything. Contradiction is our wretchedness, and the sense of our own wretchedness is the sense of reality.” Humanity is capable of performing ill, which is the required counterpart of righteousness, and this design presupposes conflict. For Weil, the two poles of spirituality are in some instances one and the same: An excess of goodness yields to the beginning of evil, so no crystal distinction can be made between them.
Gravity is the force that keeps the individual grounded; it is separate from grace (and therefore isolated from God). It is, as it were, the womb of sin. Grace is a celestial energy which prevails over void and gravity. Weil introduces the void as that area between human gravity and heavenly grace. The void is imperative for the animation of God—without a feeling of absence, there would be no longing. Humans are not capable of crossing this threshold that unites them with God; only the Supreme Being may cross over to meet them. Instead, they must only accept this void in the hope of future completion. Gravity holds people to themselves, and this attachment is a selfish desire for the present truth. God repudiates His essence to create humans; humans in return must become nothing to welcome God. This notion of “de-creation” pervades Weil’s thought—the denial of one’s own worth directly enables one to seek, and ultimately to reunite with, God. As an individual releases the self, so does gravity release that individual. Still Weil claims that without the concept of worth, there is no incentive to seek this union.
Affliction is the greatest means of denying one’s own essence, and the ability to endure it is brought about only by grace. Yet an abundance of pain will debase the individual. Human existence tears at the spirit and beauty of the world; it brings all in the universe farther away from the divine. Suffering should not be regarded as something beneficial. If it is attributed to individuality, then it is without worth. Instead, the proper wish is to remain immune to its horrors, to endure it for its own sake without regard for the merit that it may bring. Given the mortal need for approval, it is impossible to achieve this state except through grace. Outside of its blessing, pain and enjoyment can never be separate emotional entities. Supernatural grace is second only to love, as it is love that allows one to receive grace. Weil adopts a Platonic vision of love as a spiritual relationship; all physical expressions of love are debased and removed from love itself. In Weil’s mind-set, individuals must love themselves only because God loves them—and for no other personal intention.
If she was to be anything at all, Weil designed to remain a mediator between this world and the realm of God, to avoid intentional hubris and serve only when instructed to do so. Inspired by four mystical moments, she recorded her own understanding of these direct encounters with the divine. In addition, just as she describes the components of goodness, she also makes a point to define what it is not. Imagination is an illusion which fills the void, leading people to love their existing reality: themselves and their world, which are in fact illusory. It attempts to take the place of grace in filling the void. Time is another false measure of closing the chasm; it is a container which makes one feel comfortable with life. Properly, one may only be content to the extent that the void allows one to be. The ultimate striving is the inner desire for the infinite, that which cannot be realized, rationalized, observed, or seen.
Evil is a destruction of a degraded good, not a pure one. It is the origin of illusions and imagination. In its fullest definition, evil is an attempt to drive goodness down, and in this manner, it represents gravity. Weil holds that it is the way in which evil operates that deems it evil. Further, one should accept its presence and incorporate it into the process of suffering; by denying the liberty of performing evil, one in effect denies that it is a part of one’s essential makeup. It is only by maintaining the greatest distance from God that humans can hope to come into His presence.
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