Monday, January 10, 2011

Reflections on Affliction

I am presenting here a portion of the Book Waiting for God by Christian philosopher Simone Weil. It is not easy to read but I think easy enough to understand.

In long periods of contemplation of the state I indwell, this piece best explains where I live and without details of cause, why.

I have no idea if there even exists the person who has the expertise to deal with my issue and if there is, if they have the willingness to do so. Until this time, no one has had keys or willingness to step into this world of affliction and set the captive free.

From WAITING FOR GOD - by Simone Weil
The Love of God and Affliction*
pages 117 and following

* translator’s note: ‘No English word exactly conveys the meaning of the French malheur. Our word unhappiness is a negative term and far too weak. Affliction is the nearest equivalent but not quite satisfactory. Malheur has in it a sense of inevitability and doom.

In the realm of suffering, affliction is something apart, specific and irreducible. It is quite a different thing from simple suffering. It takes possession of the soul and marks it thorough and through with its own particular mark, the mark of slavery. Slavery as practiced by ancient Rome is only an extreme form of affliction. The men of antiquity, who knew all about this question, used to say: “A man loses half his soul the day he becomes a slave."

Affliction is inseparable from physical suffering and yet quite distinct. With suffering, all that is not bound up with physical pain or something analogous is artificial, imaginary and can be eliminated by a suitable adjustment of the mind. Even in the case of the absence or death of someone we love, the irreducible part of the sorrow is akin to physical pain, a difficulty in breathing, a constriction of the heart, an unsatisfied need, hunger, or the almost biological disorder caused by the brutal liberation of some energy, hitherto directed by an attachment and now left without a guide. A sorrow that is not centered around an irreducible core of such a nature is mere romanticism or literature. Humiliation is also a violent condition of the whole corporal being, which longs to surge up under the outrage but is forced, by impotence or fear to hold itself in check.

On the other hand pain that is only physical is a very unimportant matter and leaves no trace in the soul. Tooth-ache is an example. An hour or two of violent pain caused by a decayed tooth is nothing once it is over.

It is another matter if the physical suffering is very prolonged or frequent, but in such a case we are dealing with something quite different from the attack of pain, it is often an affliction.

Affliction is an uprooting of life, a more or less attenuated equivalent of death, made irresistibly present to the soul by the attack or immediate apprehension of physical pain. If there is complete absence of physical pain, there is no affliction for the soul, because our thoughts can turn to any object. Thought flies from affliction as promptly and irresistibly as an animal flies from death. Here below, physical pain, and that alone, has the power to chain down our thoughts; on condition that we count as physical pain certain phenomena that, though difficult to describe, are bodily and exactly equivalent to it. Fear of physical pain is a notable example.

When thought is obliged by an attack of physical pain, however slight, to recognize the presence of affliction, a state of mind is brought about, as acute as that of a condemned man who is forced to look for hours at the guillotine that is going to cut off his head. Human beings can live for twenty or fifty years in this acute state. We pass quite close to them without realizing it. What man is capable of discerning such souls unless Christ himself looks through his eyes? We only notice that they have rather a strange way of behaving and we censure this behavior.

There is not real affliction unless the event that has seized and uprooted a life attacks it, directly or indirectly, in all its parts, social, psychological and physical. The social factor is essential. There is not really affliction unless there is social degradation or the fear of it in some form or another.

There is both continuity and the separation of a definite point of entry, as with the temperature at which water boils, between affliction itself and all the sorrows that, even though they may be very violent, very deep and very lasting, are not affliction in the strict sense. There is a limit; on the far side of it we have affliction but not on the near side. This limit is not purely objective; all sorts of personal factors have to be taken into account. The same event may plunge one human being into affliction and not another.

The great enigma of human life is not suffering but affliction. It is not surprising that the innocent are killed, tortured, driven from their country, made destitute, or reduced to slavery, imprisoned in camps or cells, since there are criminals to perform such actions. It is not surprising either that disease is the cause of long sufferings, which paralyze life and make it into an image of death, since nature is at the mercy of the blind play of mechanical necessities. But it is surprising that God should have given affliction the power to seize the very souls of the innocent and to take possession them as their sovereign lord. At the very best, he who is branded by affliction will keep only half his soul.

As for those who have been struck by one of those blows that leave a being struggling on the ground like a half-crushed worm, they have no words to express what is happening to them. Among the people they meet, those who have never had contact with affliction in its true sense can have no idea of what it is, even though they may have suffered a great deal. Affliction is something specific and impossible to describe in any other terms, as sounds are to anyone who is deaf and dumb. And as for those who have themselves been mutilated by affliction, they are in no state to help anyone at all, and they are almost incapable of even wishing to do so.* Thus compassion for the afflicted is an impossibility. When it is really found we have a more astounding miracle than walking on water, healing the sick or even raising the dead. (I think this is true unless the person is walking with the Lord at least in some of their parts and the Lord gives grace to love and give when He deems that best >)

Affliction constrained Christ to implore that he might be spared, to seek consolation from man, to believe he was forsaken by the Father. It forced a just man to cry out against God, a just man as perfect as human nature can be, more so, perhaps, if Job is less a historical character than a figure of Christ. “He laughs at the affliction of the innocent!” This is not blasphemy but a genuine cry of anguish. The Book of Job is a pure marvel of truth and authenticity from beginning to end. As regards affliction, all that departs from this model is more or less stained with falsehood.

Affliction makes God appear to be absent for a time, more absent than a dead man more absent than light in the utter darkness of a cell. A kind of horror submerges the whole soul. During this absence there is nothing to love. What is terrible is that if, in this darkness where there is nothing to love, the soul ceases to love, God’s absence become final. The soul has to go on loving in the emptiness, or at least to go on wanting to love, though it may only be with an infinitesimal part of itself. Then one day, God will come to show himself to this soul and to reveal the beauty of the world to it, as in the case of Job. But if the soul stops loving it falls, even in this life, into something almost equivalent to hell.

That is why those who plunge men into affliction before they are prepared to receive it kill their souls. On the other hand, in a time such as ours, where affliction is hanging over us all, help given to souls is effective only if it goes far enough to really prepare them for affliction. That is no small thing.

Affliction hardens and discourages us because, like a red hot iron, it stamps the soul to its very depths with the scorn, the disgust and even the self-hatred and sense of guilt and defilement that crime logically should produce but actually does not. Evil dwells in the heart of the criminal without being felt there. It is felt in the heart of the man who is afflicted and innocent. Everything happens as though the state of soul suitable for criminals had been separated from crime and attached to affliction, and it even seems to be in proportion to the innocence of those who are afflicted.

If Job cries out that he is innocent in such despairing accents, it is because he himself is beginning not to believe in it; it is because his soul within him is taking the side of his friends. He implores God himself to bear witness, because he no longer hears the testimony of his own conscience, it is no longer anything but an abstract, lifeless memory for him.

Men have the same carnal nature as animals**. If a hen is hurt the others rush upon it, attacking it with their beaks. This phenomenon is automatic as gravitation. Our senses attach all the scorn all the revulsion, all the hatred that our reason attaches to crime, to affliction. Except for those whose whole soul is inhabited by Christ, everybody despises the afflicted to some extent, although practically no one is conscious of it. (** I think that statement is pretty strong but since Simone had just come through WW 1 in Alsace-Lorraine one can understand where she’s coming from… but the hen analogy feels accurate. From my own experience I also believe this to be true. The more I share my pain with people, hoping for someone to recognize it and offer ministry, the more I am abandoned and left utterly alone or berated and preached at that I am not living Christ’s way because if I were, I would not be in this state.>)

This law of sensibility also holds good with regard to ourselves. In the case of someone in affliction, all the scorn, revulsion and hatred are turned inward. They penetrate to the center of the souls and from there color the whole universe with their poisoned light. Supernatural love if it has survived can prevent this second result from coming about, but not the first. The first is of the very essence of affliction; there is not affliction without it.

Christ…being made a curse for us. It was not only the body of Christ, hanging on the wood, that was accursed; it was his whole soul also. In the same way every innocent being in his affliction feels himself accursed. This even goes on being true for those who have been in affliction and have come out of it, through a change in their fortunes, if the affliction ate deeply enough into them.

Another effect of affliction is, little by little, to make the soul its accomplice, by injecting a poison of inertia into it. In anyone who has suffered affliction for a long enough time there is a complicity with regard to his own affliction. This complicity impedes all efforts he might make to improve his lot; it goes so far as to prevent him from seeking a way of deliverance, something even to the point of preventing him from wishing for deliverance. Then he is established in affliction, and people might think he is satisfied, Further, this complicity may even induce him to shun the means of deliverance. In such cases it veils itself with excuses which are often ridiculous. Even a person who has come through his affliction will still have something left in him compelling him to plunge into it again, if it has bitten deeply and forever into the substance of his soul. It is as though affliction had established itself in him like a parasite and were directing him to suit its own purposes. Sometimes this impulse triumphs over all the movements of the soul toward happiness. If the affliction has been ended as a result of some kindness it may take the form of hatred for the benefactor; such is the cause of certain apparently inexplicable acts of savage ingratitude. It is sometimes easy to deliver an unhappy man from his present distress, but it us difficult to set him free from his past affliction. Only God can do it. And even the grace of God itself cannot cure irremediably wounded nature here below. The glorified body of Christ bore the marks of the nails and spear….

God created through love and for love. God did not create anything except love itself, and the means to love. He created love in all its forms. He created beings capable of love from all possible distances. Because no other could do it, he himself went to the greatest possible distance, the infinite distance. This infinite distance between God and God, this supreme tearing apart, this agony beyond all others, this marvel of love, is the crucifixion. NOTHING CAN BE FURTHER FROM GOD THAN THAT WHICH HAS BEEN MADE ACCURSED….

Men struck down by affliction are at the foot of the Cross, almost at the greatest possible distance from God. It must not be thought that sin is a greater distance. Sin is not a distance, it is a turning of our gaze in the wrong direction….


Extreme affliction which means physical pain, distress of soul and social degradation, all at the same time, is a nail whose point is applied at the very center of the soul….

(From my experience, I feel that someone who has had some healing but has not had the area of damage from affliction addressed is in an even more untenable state for the affliction rules in its parts even though the healed parts know and recognize health and recognize the illness from affliction as something unconquerable.I believe that ultimately they affliction will invade those healed parts and permeate the whole person. >)

Also some ideas from George Otis Jr. in the TWILIGHT LABYRINTH- on trauma which also relate I think….

”the traumatic experience is both alien and vicious: it invades you, takes you over…It becomes a dominating feature of your interior landscape, and in the process threatens to drain you and leave you empty…. It can issue from a sustained exposure to battle as well as from a moment of numbing shock, from a continuing pattern of abuse as well as from a single searing assault, from a period of severe attenuation and erosion as well as from a sudden flash of fear. The effects are the same.” (The Twilight Labyrinth- p. 141)

In the footnote on the above he continues… “in classical medical usage, ‘trauma’ refers not to the injury inflicted but to the blow that inflicted it, not to the state of mind that ensues but to the event that provoked it. The term ‘post traumatic stress disorder’ is an accommodation to that medical convention…. It is how people react to them rather than what they are that gives events whatever traumatic quality they can be said to have.” ( p.341)

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