Of the vast palate of human emotion, there is one visceral reaction that is completely uncontrollable an often times unexplainable, tears. Not the tears borne of physical pain or direct personal attack, but those tears that come out of nowhere in the middle of a perfectly safe situation. You know, those tears at a word, or a song, or a picture, or a thought, or something that stirs deep within and came from long ago. We all know what those tears are like. More often than not we have tossed them off with a phrase that goes something like: “I don’t know why I did that.” Sometimes you’re just overcome with embarrassment and rush to move out of the moment. But what if you were missing a move of God in your life, at a moment that seems simply like a random embarrassment?
As a spiritual director and prayer team member I often joke with team mates that our most important piece of equipment is a box of tissue! There’s a core of truth in most jest. Tears are a regular part of the spiritual journey. When I first came to the Church it was through the Catholic Charismatic Movement in the Chicago area. It was in the 70’s at a time when the Spirit was literally blazing across the country after that amazing week-end at Duquesne University. In the conservative Church, it was real so very real. After John XXIII’s invitation for a new wind to move through the Church unbelievable things were happening all over American Parishes.
I was a newly hatched teacher and at loose ends in my life journey. Through no fault of my own I went to my first prayer meeting just to satisfy an insistent friend who had been inviting me for weeks. In an experience that defied logic I walked into that meeting and felt more “at home” than any location I had ever been in before. I was hooked and here it is thirty-five years later. Talk about an invitation that stuck. That community and the wonderful priest who established it became my primary teachers/examples for whom and what a catholic Christian is. Needless to say, my introduction to the faith included many “close encounters” with the Spirit. Sometimes our teaching and learning happens without the aid of words ala St. Francis of Assisi.
In the beginning, the Charismatic experience is pretty mind boggling. The things you see and hear are engaging in a way that your spirit has never been stirred before. The elegant sound of hundreds of people praying in tongues, rising and falling together without the aid of a “conductor” is oddly calming, boldly spoken prophecy, words of knowledge, deep prayer, resting in the spirit and silence that is literally palpable. In a prayer meeting of long standing, none of these things are out of place and no one in the meeting is “flapped” by any of it. The Spirit also moves in “the ordinary” and uses other “manifestations” of our incarnation as part of this experience. The Spirit moves as he will! One of my more profound and unexplainable happenings in those early days was the experience of tears. That meeting was so welcoming, so calming so safe that I could hardly wait to get there every Monday. Yet tears were very much part of my initial beginnings. After attending for a couple of months the only thing that I could do at the prayer meeting was arrive, wait for mass to begin and then………….you guessed it, sit and weep uncontrollably for two hours. I tried to be inconspicuous by sitting in the back and not sobbing aloud. My copious weeping didn’t seem to bother or fluster anyone. Every once in a while someone would unobtrusively stop to check on, or pray for me. That phenomenon lasted for about three or four meetings and the only thing that I was sure of was that it was some kind of move of the Spirit. Rather than be embarrassed I actually felt a whole lot better after my weeping was done.
Tears are one of the Spirit’s manifestations and a real sign that a person is yielding to His healing power. Unspoken actions by an unseen presence, neither being tangible, what the world would call “real”. “Tears are the humble, created water of my heart that corresponds to the powerful uncreated water of the Spirit’s life in me. Tears are perhaps the most rejuvenating and re-creating water of all, the evidence that I have allowed grace to melt the ice at the center of my being. ….where there are tears, there is the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit of God is always, as at the beginning, ‘hovering over the waters’”. (E. Leiva-Merikakis, brother Simeon, Cistercian monk of Saint Joseph’s Abbey, Spencer, MA as quoted in Magnificat, V 13. No.4, June 2011, p. 173-174) When we allow unexplained tears to overtake us in a spiritual setting we are actually co-operating in The Spirit’s creative action. As Brother Simeon points out, The Spirit was there “in the beginning” as the agent of God’s creative power. The Spirit was the agent of Jesus’ conception and the Spirit was responsible for the creation of newer, bolder, empowered disciples at Pentecost. The Spirit brings new creations that have not existed before his presence is acknowledged. When we do not resist the Spirit and let the tears flow, new things are being created in us at that moment. We would do well not to block his action by distractions like embarrassment or shyness.
When we pay attention to the third member of the Holy Trinity amazing things happen. While the efficacy of prayer to the Father and the Son cannot be denied one cannot help but recall that John Paul II taught us that “God is a Family”. As believers we need to pay serious attention to the fact that our “family” is three persons and not typified by large mansions, many possessions or things that we can point to and claim as part of the family estate. Our true dwelling is not visible and our most important family members will not stop over for tea at the kitchen table. But they will be present and active in our lives Father, Son and Holy Spirit only with our permission. I have had that experience over and over these past thirty-five years as well as witnessed the manifestations of tears, miracles and re-birth in countless others. If you think that you can have a completely fulfilled spiritual life without inclusion of the Spirit you are simply wrong. If you are unwilling to let the Spirit act in your life, however he wishes, you will struggle to move forward in your spiritual journey. Not everyone is meant to be a Charismatic but everyone is obliged to hear the Spirit when he calls your name. Sometimes he whispers. Tears are not necessarily a bad thing.
Copyright©2011, Kathryn M. Cunningham, All Rights Reserved
Learn more about Kathryn’s adventures with the Holy Spirit @www.atravelersview.org
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