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Receptivity and offering: Tears

Lynne Baab • Wednesday May 4 2022

Receptivity and offering: Tears

My husband Dave and I have been talking about the growing number of times we get tears in our eyes. We are both experiencing this as we get older.

Dave often tears up when singing hymns or praise songs at church, and when that happens, he feels okay about it because no one can see him in the pew. However, in our church we come forward to receive communion, and Dave often has tears on his face as he comes forward. He finds this embarrassing (and he gave me permission to write about this).

He says that his tears sometimes reflect sadness for the brokenness of the world, including his own sin. In those moments, he feels one with Jesus, who weeps over the world. This experience of oneness with Jesus weeping also has components of joy at the closeness he feels with Jesus. That sense of intimacy, Dave says, provokes “tears of joy and thankfulness, waves of grace washing over me. I feel it as the Holy Spirit gift of tears.”

Our most recent conversation about tears was precipitated by an article by Isaac S. Villegas, a Mennonite minister in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I want to use Rev. Villegas’s words to encourage all of us to offer to God our tears. I want to encourage us to receive the beauty of Jesus’ tears when he cries over Jerusalem (Luke 19:41-44) and when his eyes fill with tears as he grieves with his friends Mary and Martha at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:1-44).

Rev. Villegas gives a helpful summary of the way tears have been viewed at various times in Christian history:

“Evagrius, in his fourth-century meditation De oratione, invites his community to ‘pray for the gift of tears.’ Tears are divine gifts because they flow from God’s grace; they are signs of communion in the Holy Spirit, who is the wellspring of our joy. Teresa of Ávila, in her 16th-century spiritual memoir, testifies to the presence of God’s spirit through tears: ‘I have seen the flow of tears from great consolations,’ tears born from contentos, as she writes in Spanish—the contentment, the solace, the peace of the Holy Comforter.”

Recently I have been pondering the word “contentment,” something I haven’t experienced as much in my life as I would like, so I zoomed right in on Teresa of Ávila’s words. I love the way she links tears with the consolation of the Holy Spirit. I think that’s what Dave was describing.

Rev. Villegas’s article opens with the story of a homeless man who cries when he receives communion. At the end of the article he returns to the idea of tears during communion:

“Communion tears remind me of a line from Augustine of Hippo, from one of his sermons where he tells his church that they are like the eucharistic loaf. When we see the bread we see ourselves, in our union with Christ: ‘after a certain amount of pounding and crushing, we are joined together by means of water.’ For Augustine, the water in the bread-making process is baptism. After all the watery eyes I’ve seen at the commu­nion table over the past 15 years of my pastorate, I wonder if the water is also the tears that come with the pounding of our lives, of being human in this crushing world. When we cry, the apostle Paul writes, the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirits, God’s breath in our wordless sighs (Rom. 8:15-16, 26). Jesus also wept. Christ knows our tears.”

“A certain amount of pounding and crushing” is a great way to describe what so many people tell me they have experienced in the past two years of pandemic life. I’d like to lean into this picture of pounding and crushing, my tears joining with fruitful grain, to become like Jesus, the Bread of Life. I want to offer my tears to God as a part of this mysterious, rich, frustrating, delightful, confusing, amazing, and beautiful process we have been called into – the life of faith that that shapes us into the image of Jesus.

(Next week: And-ness. Illustration by Dave Baab: Easter snow on the Ben Ohau range near Twizel, New Zealand. I love to get new subscribers. Sign up below to receive an email when I post on this blog.)

Recently I’ve been thinking about empathy, surely one of the causes of our tears for the pain we see in the lives of people we love. I write about empathy in my book, The Power of Listening. Here are some additional posts and articles that mention empathy:

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