Simone Weil

Gravity and Grace

Valeria Sokolova

To accept grace one should empty oneself


What do we know about gravity? Gravity or gravitation is a term used in mechanics to describe a force that attracts two or more objects in the universe. Simone Weil, a French philosopher, was the first to apply it to human ‘mechanics’ and was the first to give it a metaphysical meaning regarding relationships between human beings. 

Simone Weil, came all the way from being a sacrificial political activist to immersing in the felicitous waters of Christian mysticism. Weil did not believe that Christianity was the only religion which encompassed revelation: on the contrary, she claimed, each of the known religions contained epiphanies and they had to be studied separately. Weil lived a short but vivid life, dying at 34. And hadn’t she, years before her death, handed over some of her notebooks to Gustav Thibon, perhaps, the world would have never witnessed her shining spirit. Although these notebooks were not for publishing, one of her closest friends Gustave Thibon, a French Catholic philosopher, subsequently composed and edited her entire penned notes and had them published in 1947 under the title Gravity and Grace (fr. La Pésanteur et la grâce). [1]

A philosopher of Jewish background, raised in a secular Jewish family, Weil attempted a couple of times to convert to Catholicism, but in the end, she rejected to be baptised, for she did not want to accept its exclusivity nor give up philosophy or her background. Identifying as a Christian, meant for Weil to identify with suffering, with those who were complete marginals, those who had been destroyed by the system. At this point of identifying herself with the oppressed and persecuted, gravity starts emerging in her texts. Gravity is the created world we inhabited. Gravity is the force that sustains the physical and emotional world of human beings. Gravity is the force that explains the presence of human coercive behaviour and, thus, that of evil in this world. The same as an equilibrium between physical objects, it has to be found in an emotional unphysical relationship between two people. An act of violence liberates a certain amount of energy that, in turn, causes more violence. That is the answer to how conflict begets conflict, hatred begets hatred, and war begets war. This is a natural way of things that gravity maintains. For Simon Weil, affliction manifests reality. 

Grace is not another world. It exists along with gravity and intertwines the world of gravity. Grace is momentary, like sparks kindling amidst the dark. When violence gives rise to violence, grace suspends the laws of gravity. Let us imagine a stretched over slingshot that points at a piece of plastic. The tighter we stretch it over, the more damage it will cause. Grace is a force that would loosen the slingshot’s tension and let it leave just a slight dent, instead of a hole on this plastic. Gravity pulls things down, whereas grace raises them. But to elevate them, one has to go lower than gravity. A deeply afflicted person often causes disgust, instead of pity and empathy: in this case, one ought to lower oneself before the afflicted, and only in doing so grace will reveal itself. 

To accept grace one should empty oneself. This resembles the Christian concept of kenosis (gr. ἐκένωσεν), an act of Jesus abandoning his own will and receiving God’s divine will. A similar idea permeates the teaching of a German mystic Meister Eckhart who says: «to be empty of things is to be full of God». This emptiness, as Weil puts it, is «creating the void». Detachment, like the extinction of desires in Buddhism, is a necessary key for undergoing this process. Even «consolations», as she names them, like immortality, the utility of sin and providential order of things have to be given up to create the void. Even the existence of God has to be denied, for God does not exist as created things do. 

Simone Weil has left us with a sort of dark theology. Similar thoughts can be found in Dostoevsky: wherever direction you go, there seems to be no exit out of the murk. This existence is tightened in a corset of gravity and sometimes a chance to catch one’s breath only appears when its strips are untied.

[1] Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, translated by Emma Crawford and Mario von der Ruhr, Routledge Classics by Routledge, London 2002.

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