Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The recovery of tears...

This morning, writing about the relationship between contemplative and intercessory prayer, I remarked on Maggie Ross's reference to St. Isaac the Syrian, or St. Isaac of Nineveh, whichever you prefer, and I quoted my own favourite passage:

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation.

For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns with without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.

(Ascetical Homilies, pp. 344-5)

This evening, to my amazement, Maggie Ross has posted an extract from an article first published in Sobornost, Spring 1987, pp. 14-23:

In the earliest days of the Church, tears had an integral place in Christian life, and we find their most eloquent champions in the early Syrian tradition, especially in Ephrem and Isaac. Like so many insights of the early Church, teaching on tears has fallen prey to theological reductionism, and what is communicated to us today is not profound insight into human nature, but spiritual imperative. As a result, especially in the West, tears have been relegated to the spiritual museum where they are regarded as quaint, embarrassing and even shameful. There is, however, a growing realisation that something is radically wrong with this view...

it is my thesis that tears are absolutely central to Christian experience, and that we need to recover them today. Tears signify losing one's life - or what one thinks is one's life; one's pseudo-life - in order to gain true life; tears are at the core of receiving and mirroring the outpouring of God's love in kenosis, which begins with creation and reaches its culmination in Jesus the Christ.

She goes on to quote from St. Paul's letter to the Philippians, which I've taken the liberty of reproducing here in the NRSV:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death even death on a cross. (Ch. 2 vv 5-9)


    Sue said...

    Oh, wow, how beautiful that is!!

    (I don't know if you read The Shack at all, but the Holy Spirit character in that book captures up all of the narrator's tears in a little bottle with a stopper on top. Very beautiful.

    Like this post. Thanks for sharing.

    Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

    All I ever seem to say to you is thank you, . . . but thank you.

    Mike Farley said...

    And thanks to you, both of you!

    No, I haven't read The Shack yet, Sue. It's got to the point that there are too many recommendations actually to read the thing! Does that make any sense?


    Sue said...

    Yep. That makes total sense. The tipping point was reached a long time ago with that book :)

    Isn't it funny how as soon as something is recommended by umpteen people you lose all desire to do it? I used to think it was rebellion but I think it's something else ... just not sure what :)

    PS: I thought of you the other night when I found myself praying for someone and just burst into floods of sobs. It's happened twice in the past few weeks.