Sunday, September 20, 2009

tears as gift

Church fathers such as St. Augustine and St. Isaac of Ninevah speak at length about the gift of tears. Tears in this context are a spiritual phenomenon, a kind of overflow into the body of a spiritual state of intimacy with God. Ordinary tears, on the other hand, are simply the result of various emotional states such as sorrow, self-pity, anger, even extreme happiness.

Many today try to suppress their tears or, if they recognize the value of "having a good cry," make sure this is accomplished alone and behind closed doors. Do we not usually begin apologizing the moment our emotions slip out in public? Even with a close friend or family member whose compassion we can count on, the desire to apologize for our tears may be greater, knowing how hard it is for those who love us to see us hurting.

Faithful Christians, seeking perfect resignation to God's will, seem to feel particular embarrassment over their tears. This should not be so! No matter how selfish we feel their origins to be, tears can be a gift. When parents cry in front of their children, they are teaching them an important lesson in what sorrow is and how one deals with it as an adult. Seeing the suffering of others is essential to a building up of compassion and understanding in the world at large. But beyond the lessons that can be learned, offering one's tears to another human being is a gift in itself. It is a conferral of trust, an intimate self-disclosure.

A whole verse of the account of Lazarus in St. John's Gospel is devoted to telling us that Jesus wept. These were human tears on account of human suffering. Our Lord shared those tears with us. And his desire for us is that even as we wipe similar tears from our own eyes, they remain firmly fixed on Him. He wants to be our rock, our anchor on the stormy seas of life. His heart is full of gentleness and compassion, and it is attracted by our very misery.

So let us give Christ the gift of our tears: our despondency, our self-pity, all our griefs and all our frustrations. In the beautiful words of that great Dominican preacher, Fr. Gerald Vann: "Refuse to despair, and on the contrary take that gift too to the altar: put your very dereliction itself into his hands; and sooner perhaps than you could hope, more richly certainly than you could dream, he will turn those waters of sorrow into the rich red wine of life." Surely he who asked the servers at Cana for water from a well made by human hands cannot fail to do something beautiful with the gift of water stemming from eyes His own hands have fashioned and made.

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