The Way of Tears
I have been pondering the paradoxes of faith: in weakness is strength; in seeming folly, wisdom; in giving up self, self is found; in death is life; the way of tears unlocks the sources of joy.
So as we ponder still waters (Psalm 23), we also ponder a room full of widows weeping (Acts 9), and a Lamb who is shepherd (Revelation 7), guiding us to springs of the water of life only after the Lamb, the shepherd, God, wipes away every tear from our eyes.
So the way to eternal life, life lived with God, dwelling in the house of the Lord for ever, is through the way of tears.
As a woman not unlike Tabitha, Maggie Ross, puts it, we live in a culture that “murders tears.” Keep it together. Keep a stiff upper lip. Keep up appearances. Hold it back. Maintain an illusion of invulnerability in a world that reminds us daily, if not more regularly, just how vulnerable we really are.
Ponder what we know: The Earth is a mere speck in a vast universe (or one of many universes!), and we are then just an even smaller speck on the face of this rock we call home. We are made up of dust, organized specks of cosmic dust, stardust really. Talk about vulnerability!
Yet, we try to hold tears back. I spoke the other afternoon at a Vigil for Victims and Witnesses and Survivors of Violent Crime. For the first time, really, I publicly told my story of the great tragedy at St. Peter’s, Ellicott City, where my two closest colleagues in ministry were shot and killed in the church office. Up to the time of my slot on the program I did deep breathing and kept telling myself to “hold it together.”
My story, however, was really about how years of tears have renewed my spirit, renewed my “vocation,” and re-focused my life in the Lord, my life with the Good Shepherd, in ways that not traveling the way of tears could have made possible.
Tears – salt in water. We are fully 60% water, salt water at that. And yet we try so hard to hide that. We resist revealing the very essence of our selves. Salt in water – we cannot see it, but we know it is there. We cannot see God in ourselves – and simply knowing we are imago Dei, made in the image of God is no real help – but the essence of God is within us, both individually and even more so among us in community. This God among us and within us is busy healing us.
The widows of Joppa, Joppa’s most vulnerable women, are weeping at the thought of losing Tabitha, a disciple of Christ (take note, there were women disciples!) who had embodied the love of the Good Shepherd: just look at these clothes she made for us with her own hands! Peter kneels, prays, invites her to rise, and like her Lord, she rises and tears are transformed into great joy – joy so great that we are told, “…many believed in the Lord.”
The vision of St. John the Divine suggests that to be led to still waters, to know eternal life, to live life within the household of the Lord for ever, first we must allow God to wipe away every tear. That is, our tears reveal who we really are so that the Good Shepherd can call us by name, wipe away every tear, and welcome us into the household of God.
And what a household it is! There dwell co-eternal the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! God the creator, God the pain-bearer, God the life sustainer.
Maggie Ross (her pen-name) in her book, The Fountain and the Furnace: The Way of Tears and Fire, writes, “…the gift and way of tears is a vital, healing and ambient grace. Tears are healing of themselves, and a sign also of healing already at work in our depths, leading to union with God and God in other people, offering real hope for real solutions to the horrors that beset us.” p.38
Jesus the Good Shepherd wept at the grave of Lazarus his friend. Jesus the Good Shepherd wept as he looked over Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. Jesus wept in the garden the night before he was crucified on a Roman cross. After all that weeping, however, he did not waver in front of Pilate. He did not waver on the cross, where he prayed for all of us, his friends and his enemies. He handed over his spirit without one tear, so cleansed and strengthened and empowered was he after all the weeping he had done up to that moment.
And as he appears to a distraught Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, he repeats the question of the two angels in the tomb, “Woman, why are you weeping?” He wipes away her tears!
He is here, ready to wipe away every tear from our eyes. He spreads a table before us in the presence of our enemies, in the valley of the shadow of death, and feeds us with his own body and blood, his manna, to sustain us yet one more day in the wilderness – a wilderness of hope for those who have faith despite living in a world that rarely shows much evidence that such hope is justified.
As I looked out at a gathering of mother’s who had lost a child to violence, to those members of our police and sheriff departments who face violent crimes every day, to those who have dedicated their lives to shepherd the victims, the witnesses, the survivors through the legal process and the grieving process, how could there not be a tear welling up in my eyes as I commenced to tell my story. It would be an affront for it not to be so. In the telling was healing for me and hopefully for them. By an act of mercy and grace I was spared that day in May four years ago that I might, through my own tears, know a joy and a truth that says those we lose to such senseless violence are not gone forever, but have been changed, transformed in ways that bring us a little closer to the light while dispelling a little more of our darkness every day if only we believe that they do dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
We come from Love, we return to Love, and Love is all around. Tears are a sign of profound love. Any and all attempts to hold them back only deny God the opportunity to wipe them from our eyes.
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father's hand. The Father and I are one." (John 10)
The way to the still waters is marked with tears. The way of tears unlocks sources of joy. We might never “understand” this any more than we understand that 95% of the known universe is unseen. Tears are healing of themselves, and a sign also of healing already at work in our depths, leading to union with God and God in other people. If only we let them flow. If we only let them, the Lamb who is the Good Shepherd will lead us to green pastures and still waters and spread a table before us and our cups shall runneth over, for ever and ever. Amen.