“Do let me see your glory!” says Moses to God in today’s Office of Readings. As he stands outside the holy-of-holies tent, and God’s voice issues from a column of cloud…

God replies: “I will make all my beauty pass before you, and in your presence I will prounounce my name, ‘Lord’; I who show favors to whom I will, I who grant mercy to whom I will. But my face you cannot see, for no man sees me and still live.” [Exodus 33:18-20]

Nothing much has changed. Neither our poignant, heartfelt plea–nor God’s hiddenness.

I can’t say enough for a book I mentioned recently: Immortal Thoughts: Late Style in a Time of Plague by Christopher Neve.

it’s about the art of painting, the life of the artist, aging, decaying, dying, pandemic lockdown: the human condition in other words. Neve writes of the last years and works of Poussin, Constable, Pisarro, El Greco, Chardin, Morandi, Rouault, and Chaim Soutine among others.

I first came across Soutine at the Barnes Foundation in Philaelphia and instantly fell in love. His life, personal hygeine, finances, romances and health were a perpetual mess. He died in agony at 50, basically fleeing from the Nazis, of stomach cancer.

“In talking about Soutine’s last paintings,” Neve writes, “I need to discuss the idea of risk. Risk in painting is characteristic of many artists’ last work, in particular that of Rembrandt, Titian, and Soutine. That is because they knew far too much to be held up by tenchical difficulties and because it no longer mattered to them very much what patrons and buyers might expect. But it was infinitely more than that”…

“In Soutine’s case extreme anxiety and angst are part of his method of inner expression turned outwards, his way of making something his own by realizing it in a system of energetic marks. Nietzsche insists that it is necessary to get in touch with one’s passins and then submit them to discipline. But this version of self-realization is patently not a discipline. It is more like the terrible freedom and loneliness of Sartre’s self-making. To get in touch with your inner genius you act now, this very moment, on impulse and exactly true to your own nature. So the artist, in this turmoil of the psyche, takes risks. He has to….This energetic ardour, an uncontrolled appetitie for paint and life, can produce out of violence and disorder and profound anarchy an occasional truth, the truth he first imagined as if by accident.”

Another book I’m hugely enjoying: In Praise of Failure: Four Lessons in Humility, by Costica Bradatan, a Professor of Humanities at the Honors College at Texas Tech University and Honorory Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of Queensland in Australia whose work has been translated into more than twenty languages.

So far he’s covered Simone Weil, Mahatma Gandhi, and Romanian philosopher E.M. Cioran, who “turned his back on social acceptability.” (Well! I hope so…).

Yukio Mishima, who I personally consider a total nutcase, God rest his soul, is fourth.

“Gleefully breaching the boundaries between argument and storytelling, scholarship and spiritual quest, Bradatan concludes that while success can give us a shallow sense of satisfaction, our failures can lead us to humbler, more attentive, and more fulfilling lives. We can do without success, but we are much poorer without the gifts of failure.”

Maybe…but Mishima and arguably Weil were both suicides. That’s not “failure”–that’s abdication, at least they way they did it, which in both cases to my mind stemmed not so much from humility as from, weirdly….pride.

Anyway, Bradatan has a sense of humor (so sorely lacking in today’s world), and is a great storyteller, and the stories provide wonderful fodder for reflection, internal argument, and identification. Which I’m pretty sure was his aim.

Here’s what was on my mind after reading the section on Weil.


  1. Jill Bowers says: Reply

    This was my favorite of all your talks that I have listen to so far. I understand the feeling of isolation, the rarity of situations where you could appropriately share the deeper answers, and I cheered your opinion on Weil. My husband thought she was great. I couldn’t finish her book Waiting for God for the very reasons you stated. Thanks for your sharing.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Thanks, Jill! Afterward I thought of the line from the Gospels–This stone, rejected by you builders, has become the chief cornerstone supporting all the rest…that’s one way of describing these little interludes of interacting with the world, the two hours folding newsletters or whatever form our time, energy and love might take…with people who would not perhaps understand our hidden lives–and at the same time being grateful anyone at all will have me; that I can contribute ANYTHING, no matter how small to my community/the world; AND admiring the people who boo-hoo are probably not admiring me at all because WHY SHOULD THEY? It’s just magnificent, how the good and eternally humorous Lord, builds humility into our lives whether we want it or not! More on Simone, who afterward I remembered deserves our compassion, later…

  2. Heather, I’m so glad you talked about Simone Weil. When I read Waiting For God I thought she never understood Christianity. I kept hearing Christ say: “Get behind me!” I don’t think she could get out of her own way. Someone like Jordan Peterson — who I pray for — displays a similar false sense of honesty and humility.

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Yes, Ron! I mean the Lord works in mysterious ways so who knows what He is doing with the very real suffering of Simone Weil and no doubt Jordan P…but these people who set themselves up as “free thinkers”, supposedly unconstrained by the lemming-like stupidity, rigidity, blind obedience, and reluctance to wrestle with the “real questions” exhibited to their mind by followers of Christ kill me. Do they think St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Benedicta of the Cross, to name just two contemporary martyrs, and the legions of martyrs and saints, philosophers and theologians, and armies of unsung heroes who have laid down their lives for their friends in obscurity and exile through the ages–and are doing so now–were/are too “stupid,” too “narrow,” to face such questions? I have an emblematic anecdote and will continue the reflection in next week’s offering!

  3. Anonymous says: Reply

    Simone Weil had some major problems with Christianity, and to my mind the most important, and strange and troubling, was her denial of Israel’s influence. Indeed, she equated Israel with the evil Roman Empire. And believed the true influence on Christ was all Greek!

    There’s a book by two Frenchmen who knew her well (a Dominican priest and a farmer-philosopher) “Simone Weil as we knew her,” which goes into this in detail.

    A piece in Commentary magazine discusses the Greek, Israel, Rome thing as well:

    1. HEATHER KING says: Reply

      Wonderful, thanks so much for this insight and taking the time to hunt down the links–that Commentary article is wild, folks!


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