We Have Set A Place For GodBlog / Produced by The High Calling
We read Weil together in the season when the darkness sits at the edge of his heart and what was once conversation about the future is now conversation about the diagnosis.
Beyond the diagnosis, the events of these meetings are ordinary. It is a bar near campus on Monday evening, after class, with a local beer and adequate nachos. It is only a six minute walk from where I live to there —a cut across two main streets and an alley — and eight minutes back. I skip the alley and take a third main street in the dark. It is always dark except in spring, when the nights turn blue into the evening; an endless sea of languid stars.
We are reading Simone Weil’s Waiting for God because ever since the diagnosis, that is what we have been doing. We have been waiting. We have drummed fingers on the table between us and asked if another round of drinks should be bought. The answer is always yes, but not for the reason you think. It is not about dulling but insisting. We are saying there is life yet. We are saying that this is not the end. We have set a place for God, there at the end of the table, an empty chair that never moves and never fills and never seems to be quite with us but also never quite against us.
“The action of grace is secret and silent in the heart.”
This is from the letters of Weil. I read it aloud to him and he smiles. I am unsure which of us needs to hear these words more, in the world that is after the diagnosis. In this world the word that would make all clear (as Edith Wharton phrased it) still hangs back somewhere in a testing lab or in a doctor’s chart or in the voicemail bank of a phone call missed and a message lost somewhere in the ephemeral ether of the technological cloud.
Spinning out into that blue night and out toward those long-dead stars.
Weil. A French philosopher, Christian mystic of a kind, and a woman deeply, agonizingly troubled over the plight of suffering in the world. I read that once, during the Spanish Civil War, she worked in an auto factory for over a year so she could better understand what it was like to be working class.
Is this what I am doing? Here, in this bar, with the third round of drinks and the solidified, greasy nachos? Am I making a gesture toward identification; toward understanding this new world after the diagnosis?
It should be capitalized. The Diagnosis.
Though that seems vulgar. It seems to give it too much power.
We sit at the bar on the Monday night with the blue sky hanging low outside and turning over the words of Weil again and again:
“Two prisoners whose cells adjoin communicate with each other by knocking on the wall. The wall is the thing which separates them but is also their means of communication. It is the same with us and God. Every separation is a link.”
Every separation. Even The Diagnosis. Even the separation it shall bring.
There is no one in that chair. Perhaps.
The night is impossibly blue. It takes me eight minutes to go home.