Of the vast palette of human emotion, there is one visceral reaction that is completely uncontrollable and often times unexplainable: tears. Not the tears borne of physical pain or direct personal attack, but those tears that come out of nowhere in the middle of a perfectly safe situation. You know, those tears at a word, or a song, a picture, or a thought, or something that stirs deep within, rooted in the long ago. More often than not we have tossed those off with a phrase that goes something like: “I don’t know why I did that.” Sometimes you’re just overcome with embarrassment and you rush to move out of the moment. Slow down, what if you were missing a move of God in your life, at a moment that feels like a random embarrassment?
I was a newly hatched teacher and at loose ends in my life journey. Through no fault of my own I went to my first prayer meeting just to satisfy an insistent friend who had been inviting me for weeks. In an experience that defied logic I walked into that meeting and felt more “at home” than any location I had ever been in before.
I was hooked and here it is forty some years later. Talk about an invitation that stuck! That wonderful community and the priest who established it became my personal school of the Spirit. Needless to say, my introduction to the faith included many “close encounters” with the Spirit.
Initially the Charismatic experience can be pretty mind boggling. The things you see and hear engage in a way that your spirit has never been stirred before. The elegant sound of hundreds of people praying in tongues, rising and falling together without the aid of a “conductor” is oddly calming. There are boldly spoken prophecies, words of knowledge, deep prayer, resting in the Spirit and silence that is palpable. None of these things are out of place and no one in the meeting is “flapped” by any of it. The Spirit also moves in “the ordinary” and uses other “manifestations” of our incarnation as part of this experience. “The Spirit moves as he will!”
One of my more profound and unexplainable happenings in those early days was the experience of tears. That meeting was so welcoming, so calming, and so safe that I could hardly wait to get there every Monday. Yet tears were very much part of my experience.
After attending for a couple of months the only thing that I could do at the prayer meeting was arrive, wait for Mass to begin and then…you guessed it, sit and weep uncontrollably for two hours. I tried to be inconspicuous by sitting in the back and not sobbing aloud. My copious weeping didn’t seem to worry anyone. Every once in a while someone would unobtrusively stop to check on me. That phenomenon lasted for about three or four meetings and the only thing that I was sure of was that it was some kind of move of the Spirit. Rather than be embarrassed I actually felt a whole lot better after my weeping was done.
Tears are one of the Spirit’s manifestations and a real sign that a person is yielding to His healing power.
“Tears are the humble, created water of my heart that corresponds to the powerful uncreated water of the Spirit’s life in me. Tears are perhaps the most rejuvenating and re-creating water of all, the evidence that I have allowed grace to melt the ice at the center of my being. ….where there are tears, there is the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit of God is always, as at the beginning, ‘hovering over the waters’” (E. Leiva-Merikakis, brother Simeon, Cistercian monk of Saint Joseph’s Abbey, Spencer, MA as quoted in Magnificat, V 13. No.4, June 2011, p. 173-174).
When we allow unexplained tears to overtake us in a spiritual setting we are actually co-operating in The Spirit’s creative action. As Brother Simeon points out, The Spirit was there “in the beginning” as the agent of God’s creative power. The Spirit was the agent of Jesus’ conception and the Spirit was responsible for the creation of newer, bolder, empowered disciples at Pentecost. The Spirit brings new creations that have not existed before his presence is acknowledged. When we do not resist the Spirit and let the tears flow, new things are being created in us at that moment. We would do well not to block his action by distractions like embarrassment or shyness.
Jesus along with the Father and Spirit used the ordinary things of life to create the most extraordinary things ever gifted to the human race: a dirty spit of a river, barley loaves, grilled fish, the ragged wood of roughhewn beams, pita bread, and homemade wine. Nothing Jesus did was happenstance. His miracles and transformations show us that in the ordinary is the sacramental.
Do not pass off a simple experience like tears as useless or a mistake. That’s the Spirit speaking in your very being. Pentecost is very soon, ask him to teach you who you really are and pay attention to what comes next! The Spirit blazes through all our imperfections and the result is the healing gift of tears, the true Fire Water of the soul!
Copyright 2014, Kathryn M. Cunningham