The Discipline of Weeping
Posted on October 11, 2018
I wrote those words over 20 years ago when I began to reflect on the way Christ came to me in mercy from my earliest childhood. I haven’t been able to shake that image, through all these years, of the saving gift of tears. I read about tears in spiritual writings. I have experienced the gift of tears when I have needed healing or repentance. I practice tears.
I am in many ways still a beginner, but I have learned a little about the discipline of weeping:
If you’re going to clear your eyes of false reality, you have to learn to cry in truth.
The fathers advise us to weep for our sins. Yet, most of us don’t spontaneously burst into tears of repentance or ecstasy with God.
That’s because we have to practice in order to cry for the right reasons.
When I completed 5 years of intensive study of the fathers and was taking my exam for my Master of Theology degree, I answered the questions put to me and then said, “It’s as though the whole universe is filled with the tears of Christ, and those tears are joy and healing to us.” My good-natured professor and mentor smiled and nodded and asked me to explain another complicated view of theological anthropology in the 4th and 5th Century Fathers.
We cry and follow the tears till they become a stream flowing toward the river of God, and we step into the very suffering of Christ in the water of baptism.
We cannot escape difficult experiences through lofty language. We have to go through trials. We have to sit by the hospital beds. We have to repeat a dozen, a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand times, until the words pouring out of us awake the words in the little one we are teaching, “I am thirsty. I want milk.” We have to find hands to hold through the hard parts of walking, labor, lifting, revealing, waiting, releasing. Sometimes our hands are cups of trembling.
There is little one can do sometimes but stand by and weep. There are times in special needs life when my weakness is crushing. I am so exhausted and overwhelmed that I cannot control myself, or I can control myself and it doesn’t help anyone anyhow. I fail or excel, and yet, I am only the witness to grace, not it’s receptacle. That’s how it feels, anyhow, before the tears come.
But when I practice weeping, I know that even I can have a myrrh-streaming heart. The waters of the earth and above the heavens, all sanctified, so holy and sometimes so remote in the dry land of my broken sadness, break through to me in the simple act of crying out to God.
“O Lord my God, I cried to you, and you have healed me,” the psalmist says.
The healing is the connection between me and the women standing at the foot of the Cross, and of Christ himself, and of the waters he blessed at his coming: waters of the womb, waters of the rivers, of the sea, of the table, of weeping, of the grave, of the morning. These holy waters likewise bless my tears by connecting me back to the God who is with us. It was his tears I entered when I was baptized.
They have never been far away from me, these waters of grace, but I cannot always see them for all the lies I set daily before my face. Truth and weeping go hand in hand. Grief is a great clarifier of joy.
I have heard and sometimes experience tears of joy, but they only came with practice.
Practice weeping in the night. Cry over any sorrow, but cry to God. Practice weeping when you’re in the car alone, or in the shower. Cry in frustration or anxiety, but cry to God. Practice weeping right in front of the faces of injustice. Cry in anger, but cry to God. Practice weeping in your lullabies. Cry in love, but cry to God. Practice weeping in the places you’d rather not be. Cry in sorrow or regret, but cry to God. Practice weeping in the kitchen. Cry for help or worry, but cry to God. Practice weeping in your garden or in church or at the table. Cry for laughter and joy, but cry to God.
In this way, your tears will wash away fear. In this way, you will be ready when it’s time to rejoice.
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