She was a French philosopher, a mystic, and a political activist. As her life progressed, she moved deeper into philosophy and became more religious. When Simone Weil died at age 34 in the midst of World War II, Albert Camus described her as “the only great spirit of our times.”
In her book, Waiting for God, Weil wrote:
I cannot help wondering whether in these days when so large a proportion of humanity is submerged in materialism, God does not want there to be some men and women who have given themselves to him and to Christ and who yet remain outside the church. What frightens me is the church as a social structure. And not only on account of its blemishes. Insofar as the church is merely a social structure, it belongs to the prince of this world…. I do not want to be adopted into another circle, another human milieu. I want nothing else but obedience – even unto the cross. That is the true haven, as you know: the cross.
Church boards always have a careful balancing act between inside focus and outside focus. Tending to those inside your congregation is probably in your church by-laws in some form. Keep up the building, balance the budget, teach children and youth and adults, hold worship, help people feel that they belong. Focusing on those who stand outside the church rarely gains universal approval. Those outside are “a constituency not yet present.”
They are so often longing for spiritual connection yet looking suspiciously on congregations that appear too much like a social structure, circle, human milieu, private club.
This is not a new challenge. Many faith traditions celebrated the Day of Pentecost last Sunday. The events of that day, narrated in Acts 2, are the culmination of some notable events in the first chapter of Acts.
The Risen Christ is with his followers in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4) and he orders them “not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of God.” The first command of the resurrected Jesus is not to charge out into the world, but to pray, to prepare, to wait.
“Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6) The first words spoken by the disciples in the Book of Acts express a hope for restoration. So too, immediately after Jesus’ ascension, they are asked by God’s messengers: “You of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” (Acts 1:11) Questions about restoration and longing for what (and who) is no longer there are the activity of the disciples. Inside work. Focused on what they knew.
And then the Spirit’s wind blows them outside—outside what they knew, outside into the world, outside into radically new experiences that they cannot avoid with the Spirit’s wind at their back.
Out, far beyond what they already knew, the church is born. In his commentary on Acts, Willie James Jennings writes:
Where the Spirit of God is, there is divine desire not simply for God but for one another and not simply for one another but for those to whom we are sent by the Spirit, to those already being drawn into communion with God and sensing the desire of God for the expansion of their lives into the lives of others.
How does your church board agenda reflect your inside focus? How does it reflect your outside focus?
What do you make of Weil’s statement, and especially of her confession that “What frightens me is the church as a social structure”?
Who might be frightened of your church as a social structure? Are these frightened people of concern to you?
What do you make of Jennings’ claim that “where the spirit of God is, there is divine desire, not simply for God but for one another…?”
What do we desire, and why, in Jennings’ words, is it divine?