Week of June 11, 2014

Todd JonesMy Dear Friends,

“Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Some think of this as the shortest verse in the Bible. I consider it one of the most comforting. Jesus’ tears serve to hallow all of our own tears and to remind us that to be human, to be fully alive, is to weep. In the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, there is a collection of ancient, ceramic sacramental vessels. They are quite small, and the description of them in the museum informs you that people cried into them. They were made to hold human tears. A parent or a child dies. Someone you love has cancer. Someone you trusted betrays you. You have a serious rift with a close friend or family member. You weep in the face of this. So if you are a Jew of old, you pick up your tear cup, you place it under your eye, and you weep into it. When you are finished weeping, you cap it and put it away until another day arrives that is filled with tears.

Why did these people save their tears? Because they were precious and because they provided evidence, a reminder, that they had lived authentically and fully. A cup full of tears is evidence that you have felt deeply, that you have suffered and sorrowed, and survived. There is an old Rabbinic tale told of a student who approached his teacher, complaining that he was suffering so deeply that he could no longer pray and study, for all his tears. Rabbi Mendel asked him, “What if God prefers your tears to your studying?”

If we were wiser and more alive to things, we might well cry more often than we do. Life is not easy, and hardly a week passes in which something worth crying about does not happen. To pretend that life is easy or that it is not without tragedy and sorrow diminishes us and those we love. Some of us have a hard time crying because we are afraid of our feelings. To express them honestly and deeply feels to us like we are losing control. But it is also possible that if we pretend we do not feel great grief or sorrow, if we hide our passion and heartache, that over time we can forget how to care and live deeply. C. S. Lewis said unforgettably in The Four Loves, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully around with hobbies and little luxuries…lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

The ancient Hebrews did not live this way, mostly because they loved life too much. They were not afraid to cry. The Psalmist cried out, “They that sow tears shall reap in joy. He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing in his sheaves…” (Psalm 126:5,6) The ability to weep opens us up to the capacity for deep joy. The fuller one’s tear cup, the fuller one’s life. Great-hearted people, it seems, cry more readily than small-hearted ones. Life has touched them more deeply, not only with pain, but also with joy. May we weep when life calls us to such an honest response, until we can say with the Psalmist, “My cup runneth over.”

With Love and Prayers,

Todd Jones

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