Who among us doesn’t weep or at least tear up and grimace at the seeming endless death and disease in our country wreaked by the coronavirus pandemic? There is great sadness and grief at the deaths and suffering caused by COVID-19. Way too many lives in way too many places have been deeply touched by this virus that causes such suffering.
This idea about weeping as an important expression of what we are going through came to me by way of an opinion piece called “And Jesus Wept: A Good Idea” by Sister Joan Chittister, OSB, in her regular column called, “From Where I Stand.” In it she quotes the 19th chapter of the Gospel of Luke about Jesus weeping over Jerusalem. And she speaks of weeping as a spiritual gift. We often hear people say about some (including myself!), “she has the gift of tears.” Indeed, I do. One friend calls me, “Lynn of the quick tear.” It is true, I admit, I am readily moved to tears – due to sadness, happiness, and all manner of things in between. I can be touched deeply and my heart pricked, and the tears leak from my eyes, whether I like it or not. (And sometimes the leak can become a wide-open spigot!) So often, it is inconvenient, these tears of mine. In the years that I practiced law in Cullman, I would just HATE when tears came unbidden. It seemed a sign of weakness. And yet, I have learned that when I am touched to the point of tears, so are others. My tears can have that effect, just as others’ tears can have that effect on me.
In our lives, are we willing to be moved by the plight of others, even as we are moved by our own circumstances? Do we have our eyes open, are our ears listening, are our hearts receptive to the sufferings of others?
Sister Joan wrote: “We must always cope with evil, of course, but we must never adjust to it. We must stay eternally restless for justice, for joy. Restless enough to cry out in pain when the world loses them.” Again, while I was practicing law, I represented too many children who had been neglected or abused or both. I never adjusted to it. Perhaps I learned to cope better with how I worked in the face of it, but I never could stop crying at the sadness of what some children endured. And yet for many children, it was all they had known. It was normal. But not for me. I had come from an exceedingly loving and healthy home of a large Catholic family that was not perfect but where I never had to fear for my safety. Nor did I have to wonder whether there would be a next meal, whether my parents would come home, or whether I would be comforted when hurting or afraid. And so, the tears came. And I had to ask hard questions.
While sometimes tears can be hidden, so that others don’t notice, most often tears get others’ attention, whether we want it or not. Tears demand attention, it seems. And that is true even when we try to hide our tears, which I often do.
How does all of this talk of tears and soft emotions fit in to our Christian life? In the beatitudes of Matthew’s gospel, we read, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Mt 5:4) Pope Francis has spoken of this very clearly, calling on us to have hearts of flesh, not hearts of stone. In his General Audience address at St. Peter’s earlier this year, the Holy Father said that it is “a question of loving the other in such a way that we are bound to him or her until we share his or her pain . . . it is important that others make a breach in our hearts.” But, oh, that hurts – a breach in our hearts! And yet, is this not part of the Paschal Mystery to which we are called by Jesus to dive into and of which we are to be fully a part?
Sometimes it is tears which call us to a change of heart, so that we can be more fully the person Jesus calls us to be. We have to recognize those parts of ourselves which need to be cried over and removed and then have the resulting wound healed. Jessica Powers, a Carmelite nun of the 20th century, penned a poem, “Repairer of Fences,” in which she recognized the ways that she (and we) have made a mess of our lives, have torn apart the shrubbery that the Master Gardener has planted. And she is clear – for our part, we need to ask God to repair the fences and the shrubs we have torn down and left. She writes:
REPAIRER OF FENCES
by Jessica Powers
I am alone in the dark, and I am thinking
what darkness would be mine if I could see
the ruin I wrought in every place I wandered
and if I could not be
aware of One who follows after me.
Whom do I love, O God, when I love Thee?
The great Undoer who has torn apart
the walls I built against a human heart,
the Mender who has sewn together the hedges
through which I broke when I went seeking ill,
the Love who follows and forgives me still.
Fumbler and fool that I am, with things around me
and of fragile make like souls, how I am blessed
and to hear behind me footsteps of a Savior!
I sing to the east; I sing to the lighted west:
God is my repairer of fences, turning my paths into rest.
Let’s give over our tears, our wrecked paths we have made, to God, who can dry our tears, repair our fences, and turn our paths into rest.
By Sister Lynn Marie McKenzie, OSB