25 February 2008

The Value of Tears

I'll start this post with a profound confession: I can't remember the last time I cried.

This really troubles me, and did long before I became Orthodox. I simply don't emote this way, and this is probably a result of childhood conditioning. My father, God bless him, didn't believe that boys should ever be seen crying, and so anytime I did cry as a kid, I got his infamous stare of displeasure. Over the years, I suppose, I really internalized this to a new level. I emote, sometimes very strongly, but my emotions usually come pouring out in my writing. Since, however, I gave up my poetic idolatry in the last year, I've been even more disturbed. I half-way expected that, once my substitutionary outlet was removed, without another outlet, surely tears would come.

They have not.

I say all this with the fact that I am very mindful of the value of tears in our Orthodox tradition. Quotes abound from the Fathers about them being the fruits of genuine repentance. St. Isaac the Syrian even has this to say about weeping:

The fruits of the inner man begin only with the shedding of tears. When you reach the place of tears, then know that your spirit has come out from the prison of this world and has set its foot upon the path which leads toward the new Age. Your spirit begins at this moment to breathe the wonderful air which is there, and it starts to shed tears, The moment of birth of the spiritual child is now at hand, and the travail of childbirth becomes intense. Grace, the common mother of all, makes haste to give birth mystically to the soul, God's image, bringing it forth into the light of the Age to come. And when the time for the birth has arrived, the intellect begins to sense something of the things of that other world--as a faint perfume, or as the breath of life which a new-born child receives into its bodily frame. But we are not accustomed to such an experience and, finding it hard to endure, our body is suddenly overcome by a weeping mingled with joy.
Where does this leave me? Certainly, I have felt deep sorrow over my sins; certainly I have sat in prayer, reciting the Canon of Repentance, the 50th Psalm, and praying with my own words that Christ would help me achieve this repentance--that the Theotokos would visit my ailing soul and show me the path to true metanoia.

And yet, no tears.

The Fathers say that man who cannot weep cannot be saved. This thought terrifies me, and I can't help wondering if my inability to get beyond the merely psychological realm of belief--which is shallow, hollow, and no-where near the goal of theosis--isn't somehow connected here.

O God, cleanse thou me a sinner, and have mercy on me.
O God, cleanse thou me a sinner, and have mercy on me.
O God, cleanse thou me a sinner, and have mercy on me.

Pax vobiscum+


Karenee said...

My friend, it will come when it is time. All things are not outward, sometimes the flood must start within. And God knows that tears are not merely an outward expression. If your heart weeps, He knows.

And, if you have good reason to doubt your sincerity, then by all means, ask Him to whack you over the head with truth. God's good at that, and in my experience, has never said, "No".

Justinian said...

Indeed...he will send misfortunes to humble us if we refuse to learn humility. Perhaps that is close to the root of my problem as well; it is something profound to stand on the shoulders of giants in the faith, especially after years of scraping about blind in the darkness. And yet, at the same time it is very easy to feel satisfied there, but in fact, the goal isn't just to stand on the shoulders of the giants, but to grow into giantness of faith ourselves. Instead of seeing everything in life as vanity and vexation of the spirit, as I used to, I now see all my actions and thoughts as vainglory--and you can see the earlier post from St. John Climacus on that subject (http://codexjustinianus.blogspot.com/2008/01/on-vainglory.html)


Don said...

There's nothing wrong with being strong, Justinian. As Karanee said, sometimes the tears are falling inside, where the world can't see them, but God can.

Justinian said...

Thanks for the kind words, both Karen and Don. I am not trying to denigrate the value of strength or stability, and if I gave that impression, I am sorry. Perhaps my thinking on this wasn't as clear when I wrote this; though I may think that I am feeling sorrow...what if it is just another psychological reality, more prelest? I suppose even with outward tears this would be possible, but somehow, I can't resolve the teachings of the Fathers (like the quoted one by St. Isaac) with the reality of my situation.

But, following the advice of Fr. Seraphim of Platina, if my situation is a spiritually barren one, then praise be to God who orders all things as He wills.

Now, if I can just get my will on board.


Brigitte said...

As you posted earlier: "Lift up my downward looking mind to Thee, and take it out of the pit of perdition, for I have no repentance, I have no compunction, I have no consoling tears, which uplift children to their heritage. My mind has been darkened through earthly passions, I cannot look up to Thee in pain."

I hear you. I agree that crying can easily become a sort of prelest but that it can also be cleansing.

I personally don't lack for tears in general, but tears of repentance escape me more often than not. A little bit ago, for several times in a row and much to my surprise, I was suddenly overcome with grief and tears at confession. I noticed how clean and humbled I felt afterwards, and I anticipated the Eucharist more than usual. If only it was this way every time. It's not just the tears I long for (because I can talk myself into them), but the whole 'package' of true compunction. Something about it...especially when the tears come unexpectedly.

I guess the tears are not the goal in themselves, but a truly repentant heart from which they naturally flow. Probably the tears come at different times in the spiritual life for different people, and maybe that's also what Don and Karenee are trying to say. Plus, a pot of water being watched seems to never boil :)

I remembered this from Fr Stephen's blog post Slowness of Grace:

"At times prayer seems over-slow in bringing results, and life is so short. Instinctively we cry, “Make haste unto me.” But He does not always respond at once. Like fruit on a tree , our soul is left to scorch in the sun, to endure the cold wind, the scorching wind, to die of thirst or be drowned in the rain. but if we do not let go of the hem of His garment, all will end well."

Anonymous said...

May the Lord bless you, Justinian.

My spiritual father had told me once when I brought up the same thing with him... ironically enough after having read the same quote from my Patron, St. Isaac. Father told me something that stuck with me.

He said, "there is a such thing as tears of the heart. We don't have to be like the Pharisees expecting an outward sign." To feel contrition for your sins and desire tearful repentance, there is something holy in that, too. There is grace in that. Oh that we could be like our fathers in the desert, with hours in tearful prayer, experiencing that joyful sorrow that some of us never grow to understand...

... but know that with the sincere desire for tears, together with contrition of heart, remembrance of death, and utter humility, we may come to know the gift of tears. It was St. Isaac who also said that a slow and steady discipline hollows out hard rock.

The Lord bless you,

Isaac the wretched

Anonymous said...

I have little more to offer except that I made a post on my own blog that has echoes of exactly what you're saying. You are not the only one who must confess such things.


Justinian said...

Thanks, Seraphim--your blog post puts words to exactly the sort of thing I'm feeling.

The possibility has entered my mind that because of the approaching of Lent (really, it's already upon us), I've let myself fall into the temptation of despondency. After all, I'm not worthy, but the sin comes in thinking that I can't ever be more than this...that somehow, I'm an exception, and the image of God cannot be restored in me.

In other words, I can still cry--the water just hasn't built up enough force to break through the dam yet. But that doesn't mean that it isn't raining...