Recently I found an echo of what I wanted to get at in my book, Seven Sacraments for Everyone, in the work of Simone Weil. Living amid the horrors of the two 20th century world wars, Weil was only too aware of the suffering that life could bring. But the way she interpreted that experience was unique. She believed that when we think of the suffering we see around us, life is absurd. Because of the constraints of our bodies, our hunger, thirst, our need for warmth, our time-and-space-bound “mortal coils” are doomed to suffer and die. It doesn’t get much more absurd than that.
But at the same time we have a soul life and that gives our lives meaning. She believed that every human being had a yearning in their hearts for the Good, for the betterment of the world, something that transcended the absurdity of our physical needs and of our deaths. She connected it to Plato’s higher world—it must be out there because we can sense it and because if it were not out there, life would be hopelessly absurd, and it can’t be! This is not far away from Voltaire: “If there were not a God it would be necessary to create one.” The way I see it, we don’t need to call it God, to look at “It” as a Being of any kind. It’s a need, a need to transcend, to embrace the Something that we will occasionally sense with exquisite pain or agonizing joy. Which came first, the Deity or the human sense of a Deity, a Holy Spirit? Or as Omar Khayyam said, “who is the potter and who the pot?” It doesn’t matter. Perhaps we are One and the Same. The point I make in my book is that we can know this Good through the gateways of Seven Universal Sacraments, open to everyone, and once we enter those gateways, we become more fully human, despite the absurdity of our existence.
Weil believed that we have to agree to enter into the search for the Good as the only way to find truth, justice and beauty in the world. The soul hungers for meaning and value, just as the body hungers, driven by Necessity. This for her is a sacred responsibility. It is at the heart of all that it means to be human, and further, it leads to the obligation to see that we do no avoidable harm to others, so that they too may embark on this search for the Good. If anyone anywhere is deprived of the necessaries of life, we must stop and make sure that they are provided for, because they can’t undertake the search when they are in want. Everyone is responsible for everyone else.
A heavy burden. Impractical, and yet inspiring. Would doing no avoidable harm include some sense of responsibility to the planet? Burning less fossil fuel, curbing population growth that threatens to destroy us all?