Crying in public is a bit embarrassing for most of us, especially those from particular cultural backgrounds (white people like me have been trained to consider it a sign of weakness). Some occasions might call for it (funerals), but crying, or shedding tears, is not usually sought after.
So I became intrigued some years ago by references in Christian traditions to the “gift of tears.” Ignatius of Loyola even urged us to pray for this “gift.” More than a few sources map such tears to penitence, of feeling genuine sorrow for our sins. But that just skims the surface of what I’m now appreciating as a genuine gift–public chagrin be damned.
I stumbled on a quote recently from the fourth century theologian Gregory of Nyssa:
It is impossible for one to live without tears who considers things exactly as they are.
The older I get, the more I seem unable not to cry. An image of a suffering elephant or polar bear on social media can moisten my keyboard with tears. But so can images of human kindness. Or when I’m playing and running with my Australian shepherd dog Judah on a beach, I sometimes find myself crying as I laugh at his antics–it’s too beautiful and I am overwhelmed.
Maybe that’s what Gregory meant by considering things “exactly as they are.” Not that we see things that way, but we consider them. We ponder, contemplate, pray, talk with friends, share meals, pet a furry dog, smell an explosion of hydrangea blossoms, and in some fashion we consider that beneath, within, throughout all of it we find the stubborn resilience of the God of Easter.
I read some years ago that the chemical composition of tears changes depending on the emotional state that produces them. I don’t know if this is true, but if so, the “gift” of tears might well offer more than public chagrin; it might mark a moment of divine encounter.
May these next few weeks of the Great Fifty Days of Easter wet your cheeks–or salt your tongue, muddy your paws, water the fragile blossoms of beauty you stumble upon in your quotidian rhythms.
May the gift of tears redouble our commitments to change the world and, because of that, renew our hope for what we cannot now imagine.
5 thoughts on “The Gift of Tears”
Thank you for this..I just told my cousin and mentor last week that I had the “gift of tears” and that its been about 7 years now with increasing frequency. Bless your journey
The loving gaze of my dog most always moves me to tears…at some deep level it reflects the gaze of God. Utter and complete unconditional LOVE!
I am Planning to write a masters thesis on the place of tears in tibetan Buddhist practice and Christian monasticism here in Kathmandu and will be very glad to keep in touch with you on this topic including the biology of tears.
That sounds fascinating, Mark! Yes, let’s keep in touch about that!