Divided into a bio/intro, a series of letters to a Catholic priest (though not the replies), and several essays, "Waiting for God" is a very uneven and choppy book, and not at all easy to get through (it's taken me 6 attempts in the past year to finally read it). The introduction is unsatisfactory because it only serves to describe the life of Simone Weil, rather than explain it, and she most definitely longs to be explained. The collection of letters are filled with some interesting conundrums and thoughts but served to only frustrate this reader even further as they leave questions unanswered about both the author and the topics covered. To be fair, they were personal letters and were not expected or intended by Weil to be included in this posthumously-collected work. She remains as much of a mystery at the end of the book as she did at the beginning.
The essays are the real heart of the book though they too can be very difficult to follow as Weil not only had trouble keeping organized in her presentation, often drifting back and forth between ideas, but she also had such a complete grasp of literature and history, she would wander on a single page quoting through Pythagoras, Socrates, Aeschylus, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Life of the Buddha in order to make a minor point on a perennial perspective of the Christian God before moving on. However, Weil is eminently quotable and I often found myself drifting through a paragraph before stopping abruptly over a beautiful sentence to go back and reread it again and again.
Her "Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God" (a very surprising position from a politically-leftist philosopher) and her "Forms of the Implicit Love of God" give much food for thought in contemplating the relationship between man and Creator. The final chapter, "Concerning the Our Father," breaks down each line of the Lord's prayer with a mature insight that dissects and reassembles it into a cohesive spiritual whole.
The most brilliant section of the book though is a 20 page essay tucked right in the middle, "The Love of God and Affliction." It is a profound attempt at explaining the plight of so many people that lived through horrific and inhuman wars of the early 20th century. She herself practiced such extreme forms of self-denial in sympathy for their suffering that she greatly damaged her own health so much (both physical and mental) that she died at only 34 years of age. But her thrust was that this "affliction" was the most powerful force in the universe to experiencing the love of God if understood in the proper way:
"Affliction is a marvel of divine technique. It is a simple and ingenious device which introduces into the soul of a finite creature the immensity of force, blind, brutal, and cold. The infinite distance separating God from the creature is entirely concentrated into one point to pierce the soul in its center.
The man to whom such a thing happens has no part in the operation. He struggles like a butterfly pinned alive into an album. But through all the horror he can continue to want to love. There is nothing impossible in that, no obstacle, one might almost say no difficulty. For the greatest suffering, so long as it does not cause the soul to faint, does not touch the acquiescent part of the soul, consenting to a right direction."
And it is through understanding this that man, through his gaze, can cross time and space and meet his Creator. This is a chapter I will be going back to over and over again and I have no doubt I'll gain new insight with each reading.
"Waiting for God" is mystical and frustrating. I want more. It deserves to be reintroduced to a spiritually-starved world.