a good thing

At coffee today, I found myself having a conversation about tears in church:  a terrible embarrassment, or a gift of grace?

I suspect you know where I stand on this.

I hate crying in public. I get annoyed at myself when it happens.   But I think it’s absolutely essential that people are free to cry in church.  And sometimes (often) I think that the right response from those near by is to do nothing.  To accept that tears are normal, that engaging honestly with pain in the presence of God is good, and that we needn’t, shouldn’t try to ‘fix’ it or get it to stop.

I am always grateful if someone is being honest enough to cry in church.  And I love it even more if at the same time, others feel safe enough to laugh, to beam, to be unembarrassed in their joy even if their joy shares the room with someone else’s pain.

The apparent gap between laughter and tears — the apparent faux pas of having people doing both at the same time — just evaporates when both come from God.

Now don’t misunderstand me:  I can still get frustrated with my own tears.  I think it is farcical that in good times or bad, I seem unable to get through Spiritual Direction without a box of kleenex very near by.  But on the whole, I am still thankful to God every time I sense the truth coming near:  in tears, in laughter, in uncertainty, in hope. In the grace of letting people be present to themselves and to God, whatever that means.




9 thoughts on “a good thing”

  1. There is many a time that the tears have slipped silently down my chops. Mostly in St Mike’s during communion hymns, kneeling with my head bowed and hidden.

    But my most vivid memory of tears in church was while I was on a placement in Hackney, London and visiting St Mary of Eton. The woman next to me (it turned out to be Janet Morley) was really sobbing during the Eucharistic Prayer and nobody seemed to be bothered. I felt sure they must have noticed but nobody seemed to care. I quietly asked her if she was okay (stupid question!) and she whispered that it often got her like that. “Grace makes me weep,” she said. “They’re used to me.”

  2. Yes. Though I suspect I’ve shocked people at times by suggesting that the observers should simply leave the person to cry and not get in God’s way (and then later, maybe, at the end of the service, ask if they want to go for coffee/ lunch/ a chat…)

  3. I am, as you know, an inveterate cryer in church – the best response I ever had was a packet of tissues quietly placed right beside me – which said to me: ‘I understand, and if you need a good mop up, be my guest.’

    I don’t like crying when I am reading aloud in church – and I don’t do it as much as I used to. But always getting subsumed in the story tends to do it – when I am Isaiah and the seraphs are terrifying, and the coals burn, and God is there splendid and shining and all I have to offer is me, and there is this silence and I know it has to be me – well, there you go. Who would not weep?

    And as far as I know, most of the stories I tell don’t propel me into tears – the exception being my account of the ‘way Jacob grew up’ which ends with his seeing God in his brother and his brother in God – and as soon as he starts seeing the face of God in the mud and cold of the wadi, I’m off.

    I always sob when writing (unless academically and sometimes even then) – I keep a big loo roll beside me, but I’m alone and it does not matter.

    But I do regard it as a mercy that the liturgy does not do it to me. Really, it needs to be some kind of narrative to reach me like that.

    There is however one exception to by being happy to cry alone. I came into a church and saw my ex-husband and his new partner standing there together. I collapsed into the nearest pew and sobbed, and in that moment, I would have given anything for a hug. So I think there is not one universal rule.

  4. That’s a different sort of crying, isn’t it? (and it demands different response)

    I nearly wrote about that, but it felt too convoluted. Or perhaps I didn’t know how . But I do think that there are the tears that come from all the things we carry, and then the tears that are given to clear all that away. They are different somehow. Something about ‘arising from strong internal motivation and circumstance’ vs ‘springing up from something deeper’.

    Does any of that make sense?

    (and one day, Rosemary, we really must discuss why you don’t see liturgy as narrative)

  5. There’s lots in the Fathers about the ‘gift of tears’ – especially in the Orthodox tradition. It’s seen as God turning the heart – and some even describe tears as the re-flowing of baptismal waters. I came across an image somewhere – I can’t remember where – of tears melting the ice of our hearts.

  6. As someone who is getting a bit of a reputation at TISEC and church for not being able to make it through the eucharist (or most other services) without tears: yes, to all of it. Thank you for this post.

    And thank you Alison for those wonderful images – I will hold on to those for a long time.

  7. oh YES…Thank you for writing this…I could not agree more (and on Monday I managed to get at least 3 minutes into a session with my SpirDir before the tears started – and continued for most of the next hour!)

  8. Thank you to all. I found the entries very resonant with where I am at the moment. When nothing stands between me and the presence of God, I feel my strongest and yet most vulnerable. You are so right Rosemary, the story of Isaiah always touches me. And Kimberly, you were so right when you said to me the tears are yet to come.

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