Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Simone Weil on 'Forgive us our debts' - trans. Brad Jersak

‘And remit us our debts, in the same way that we also have remitted our debtors.’

In the moment that we say these words, we must already have remitted all debts. This includes not only letting go of the reparation of any offences we think we have suffered; but also any recognition and gratitude for the good we think we have done. And in a completely general way, anything that we expect from people or things, everything we believe is our due, the absence of which has made us feel frustrated.

Forgiveness is letting go of every right we believe is ours in the past or in the future. First, this includes the right to a certain permanence. When we have enjoyed something for a long time, we believe it is ours, and that fate must allow us to keep enjoying it. Second, we let go of the right to compensation for all of our efforts, regardless of the nature of our effort, work, suffering or desire.

Every time we expend effort and the equivalent effort is not returned to us in the form of visible fruit, we have a feeling of inequity, of emptiness, that makes us believe we have been robbed. The effort of suffering an offence makes us expect the chastisement of the offender, or an apology from them. The effort of doing some good makes us expect recognition or gratitude from the one obliged to us.

But these are only particular cases of a universal law in our soul. Every time anything is released from us, we have an absolute need that at least its equivalent should be returned to us. And because we have that need, we believe we have that right. Our debtors include all beings, all things, and even the entire universe. We believe we have claims over everything. In every claim we believe we possess, there is always an imaginary claim of the past on the future. This is what we must renounce.

Having forgiven our debtors is to renounce the past, en bloc. To accept that the future is once again virgin and intact. The future is tied to the past by links of which we are strictly ignorant, but it ins completely free from what our imagination believes it has imposed on it. Forgiveness is to accept the possibility that this can happen and that it can happen to us in particular -- that the future may make our lives in the past into a sterile and vain thing.

In renouncing in one stroke all the fruits of the past without exception, we can ask God that our past sins would not bear their miserable fruits of evil and error in our souls. As long as we cling to the past, God himself cannot prevent this horrible fruit-bearing in us. We cannot attach ourselves to the past without attaching ourselves to our crimes, for we are unaware of what is most essentially bad in us.

The principal claim that we think we have over the universe is the continuation of our personality. This claim implies all the others. The instinct to self-preservation makes us feel this continuation is a necessity, and we feel that a necessity is a right. As the beggar said to Talleyrand, ‘Sir, I must live.’ And Talleyrand replied, ‘I do not see the necessity.’ Our personality depends entirely on external circumstances, which have an unlimited power to crush it. But we would rather die than recognize that.

The equilibrium of the world is for us a series of circumstances such that our personality remains intact and seems to belong to us. Every past circumstance that wounded our personality seems to us like a rupture of equilibrium that must, infallibly, one day or another, be compensated for by an opposing phenomenon. We live in expectancy of these compensations. The imminent approach of death is especially horrible when it forces us to realize that compensation is not about to occur.

The forgiveness of debts is the renunciation of our own personality--renouncing everything that I call ‘me.’ Without any exception. It is to know there is nothing in what I call ‘me’-- no psychological element at all--that external circumstances cannot make disappear. It is to accept this. And it is to be happy that life should be this way.

The words ‘that your will should be accomplished,’ if pronounced with one's whole soul, imply this acceptance. For this reason, we can say some moments later, ‘We have forgiven our debtors.’

The forgiveness of debts is spiritual poverty, it is naked spirituality, it is death. If we completely accept this death, we can ask God to revive us, and to purify us from the evil that is in us. When we ask him to remit our debts, we are asking him to wipe out the evil that is in us.

Pardon is purification. God himself has no power to pardon the evil that is in us and that remains there. God will have remitted our debts when he has produced the state of perfection in us. Until then, God remits our debts partially, in the same measure that we remit our debtors.

From "À Propos du «Pater»," Attente de Dieu (1942) by Simone Weil, 155-157. Trans. Brad Jersak, Clarion Journal, 2011.

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