(Note: I wrote this during last year’s most tumultuous Lent and rediscovered it yesterday while trying to find something that I had thought I had written about thanking God for the silly little things. I thought I had once told the story of a very dark day when all seemed wrong in my life. What pulled me out of the mire was when I was taking a shower and looking at the shower curtain. I had to force myself to say, “Dear God, thank you for this shower curtain, for it keeps water in the shower and not out of it.” From there, I looked at everything in the shower: shampoo, soap, the faucet, the loofah, etc. and gave thanks to God for it. But I can’t seem to find if I ever wrote that down or not. Until I find it, here is a post from last year’s Lent.)
This Lenten Season has been full of its own trials and tribulations. It is extremely hard for me to put into words what I’ve experienced for the last few months (and am still experiencing). Even now, I sit with an empty screen, frustrated at my inability to expresses these sighs that — just perhaps — are too deep for words. Even though my little sufferings are nothing compared to the sufferings of Christ, I feel in many ways as if my life has been a perpetual Holy Week: the joy and exultation of Palm Sunday; the pleading in the garden; the betrayal; and the long, painful death.
It is tempting to compare myself to Christ. It really is. But, it is certainly more true I am just a nameless, faceless pilgrim in the crowd that shouts “Hosanna” and “Crucify.” I certainly yell both with equal vigor, seemingly in the same breath. Lord, have mercy on me!
Throughout this time, I have had some wonderful friends who carry me and listen to me. Friends who let me cry in their presence and who let me get angry. Friends who care deeply for me; they are a true gift of God! One of them told me I should not invalidate how I felt. One of them helped me to laugh through all this. One simply held me. As I was explaining all my problems and issues, one of them (a faithful reader of this blog) looked at me and said, “Andy, every tear you shed is holy to God.” That was certainly a moment of grace.
Speaking of tears and sighs too deep for words, the same friend loaned me a copy of St John Climacus‘ The Ladder of Divine Ascent. It is about attaining theosis (or spiritual perfection) in a Monastic setting. It is — in short — strong medicine. He writes about the concept of a joy-making mourning. He writes, “Mourning, according to God, is sadness of soul and the disposition of a sorrowing heart, which ever madly seeks that for which it thirsts; and when it fails in its quest, it painfully pursues it, and follows in its wake grievously lamenting.” This, of course, echoes the words of the Psalmist:
Like as the hart desireth the waterbrooks :
so longeth my soul after thee, O God.
My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God :
when shall I come to appear before the presence of God?
My tears have been my meat day and night :
while they daily say unto me, Where is now thy God? (42:1-3)
It is mourning because it is continual seeking, but it is joy-making because it is seeking after Him for whom our souls desire. And this madly seeking is accompanied by great tears and grievous laments. It is the soul that continually asks, “When shall I come to appear before the presence of God?”
The tears of this mourning are especially joy-making, the Saint suggests. He (and many other writers) liken the tears that come from true repentance as a second Baptism. The baptismal waters were where our soul was first regenerated before God. But the tears of mourning are signs of further grace. These tears of repentance (and grief) cleanse the soul of sins taken upon since Baptism. A wonderful idea! As another favorite Lenten hymn of mine says, “Cease not, wet tears, his mercies to entreat; To cry for vengeance: sin doth never cease.” These tears speak louder than our sins and are (as my friend suggested) “holy unto God.” Those tears play a part in the continual salvation of our souls. These tears cry out continually, Christ have Mercy on us!
Every time we suffer or cry tears of repentance, we share in those sufferings of Christ; In sharing in the suffering of Christ, we are saving our own souls and those around us (just as His suffering saved us). I think this is what St. Paul was trying to explain to the Church at Corinth when he wrote,
If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. (2nd Cor. 1:6)
Whatever happens to us, whether it be the afflictions of persecution (like Paul) or the sighs-too-deep-for-words of the joy-making mourning, it happens so that those around us will be saved. Those holy tears that we shed before God cry out louder not only than our sins, but also louder than the sins of our brothers and sisters. When we do as the Roman Catholics do and “offer up” all our sufferings, we change the world around us. Like the women who followed after suffering Christ, let us weep for ourselves and for our children (Lk 23:27-31). Let us mourn and suffer, but not without purpose; let us mourn ’till human hearts are regenerated by the sacrifice of Christ. As St. Seraphim of Sarov once said, “Acquire a peaceful spirit and thousands around you will be saved.” Let us shed holy tears that proclaim, Lord, have mercy on us and on the whole world!
Well, there I go again, comparing my infintesimal suffering to the suffering of Christ. In truth, I am just a nameless, faceless pilgrim in the crowd that shouting “Hosanna!” and “Crucify!” in the same breath. A pilgrim watching passively while the scene of great horror unfolds before me. But, even a nameless and faceless pilgrim has a role to play in salvation when he is pulled from the crowd and commanded to carry the cross with Our Suffering Lord. So, too, do we have a role to play. Let us pick up His cross and carry it with Him. Let us weep, but with a weeping that leads to joy; and let us mourn, but with a mourning that leads to fulfillment; and let us suffer with Him a suffering that leads to eternal life.
“Drop, drop,” then, “slow tears, and bathe those beauteous feet,
which brought from heaven the news and Prince of Peace.
In your deep floods drown all my faults and fears;
nor let his eye see sin, but through my tears.” (Phineas Fletcher)