Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the author of the classic book ‘The Little Prince’ expresses it perfectly. “It is such a secret place, the land of tears!” Tears are a world of themselves, a very mysterious world.
What soap is for the body, tears are for the soul, says Jewish folklore. When Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden, God decides to arm them with a powerful healing instrument as they set out to face the tribulations of the real world.
“Unfortunate children! I have punished you for your sin and have driven you out of the Garden of Eden where you were living without care and great well-being. Now you are about to enter into a world of sorrow and trouble, the like of which staggers the imagination. However, I want you to know that My benevolence and My love for you will never end. I know that you will meet with so much tribulation in the world that it may embitter your lives.
“For this reason I give you out of My heavenly treasure this priceless pearl. Look! It is a tear! And when grief overtakes you and your heart aches so that you are not able to endure it, and great anguish grips your soul, then there will fall from your eyes this tiny tear. Your burdens will grow lighter then.”
When Adam and Eve heard these words, tears welled up in their eyes, rolled down their cheeks and fell to earth. And it was these tears of anguish that first moistened the earth.
This is part of the precious inheritance that Adam and Eve left us, the possibility to tone down anguish with tears.
During the funeral rites, when the pain is big, the ancient Greeks, Romans and Hebrews would not let their tears drop to the ground; they would collect them into small vials called lachrymatories. They would then seal and bury with the deceased these vases as a tribute to the departed.
I often wonder if we had kept every tear shed in such a vessel, stretching back to when we were a born …tears of pain, joy, sorrow, awe, laughter…along with a written story about your tears, what would our autobiography say about the kind of life we have lived, what portrait would it paint of our life?
Tradition says that God himself has this small vase always in His hands in which He collects all the tears shed by us humans. So much He feels our pain. So close He is to us.
Jesus Christ himself wept. He wept at Lazarus’ tomb, he wept out of concern for Jerusalem, he wept ‘tears of anguish’ at the Garden of Gethsemane.
Tears and blood are the two things he left behind that were part of himself. His blood signified his ultimate love for mankind, his tears bore witness to a heart that had no limits. A man of tenderness and compassion.
Someone once remarked that “our eyes need to be washed by our tears once in a while, so that we can see life with a clearer view again”. This is why the Scriptures are so replete with tears.
There are tears of grief, like when Abraham buried his life long companion Sarah. There are tears of joy like when Joseph revealed himself to his estranged brothers after years of painful separation. His weeping was so loud that it aroused the curiosity of his Egyptian household!
The woman with a sordid past drenches the feet of Jesus with her tears of gratitude for His forgiveness. And the apostle Paul reminds the brothers at Miletus that for three years he had admonished them, day and night with tears. He cared.
Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders is one of the sweetest scenes of the New Testament. “There was much weeping among them all, they embraced Paul and kissed him grieving especially because of what he had said, that they would not see him again…”
Tears are words the heart cannot express. However faith tells us that there will come a day when “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”
Until that day appears, let tears water your soul, let them generate empathy, let them flow… God sees them and acts.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.