Tears: True Holy Water
“Oye: Agua santa can come from our eyes.” (“Listen: Holy water can come from our eyes.”) This line that comes from a poem called, “Llantos de la Llarona,” by the American poet Pat Mora, struck me as a theological wisdom when I read it.
Science has discovered that the chemical make-up of tears is different, depending on the reasons behind them. In other words, tears are not just salty water coming from our eyes in various positive, or negative emotional moments. The tears of anger have a different chemical make-up from those of joy, or those of sorrow.
I wrote about laughter a few days ago and it strikes me that writing about tears is an appropriate follow-up as well, because they, too, are gifts to us from a loving God. We know that Jesus’ shared our capacity for tears of love and those that are the result of sorrow for the loss of a dear one, or those that arise from our pity for those who suffer injustices. Scripture tells us that he shed profound tears at the loss of his friend, Lazurus. “Jesus wept.”
It is not unreasonable, then, to see that the tears that flow freely from our eyes at the witnessing of a birth, or at the meeting of an old friend after years of being apart, or the tears that fall relentlessly from our eyes at the loss of a loved one, are truly “holy waters.” They are the waters of blessing. They are the waters of cleansing. They are gifts from our loving, merciful God as naturally as the gift of laughter I wrote about recently.
With our tears we express our deeply human capacities for love, joy, and sympathy. They reveal our shared humanity. They show our humble recognition of the value of the other, and the depth of our relationships with them.
In the reality of our fallen human nature, we can turn our tears into sinful things too. We can use false tears in the attempt to manipulate the emotions of another to our personal benefit. We can allow ourselves, out of selfishness, to cry the bitter tears of anger, or the burning tears of jealousy. When we do this our tears are turned inward in service of our egos. When this happens our tears are no longer “holy water,” but they become the brackish and bitter waters of an isolated and selfish ego. They are not life-giving. They are no longer pure. They are dead and stagnant.
As God’s children, when we shed tears of wonder at the miracle of life, or tears of joy at the sudden recognition of beauty, or tears of compassion for the unreasonable and unjust suffering of others, our tears are truly “holy waters.”
God gave us the gift of our emotions so that we could experience life at its very depths. When we experience them and use them in their natural sense, we are honoring them as gifts in naturally holy ways. We are, all of us, God’s loved children. As our loving and merciful parent, God gives us everything we need to live our lives out of holiness. When we lose sight of this, or turn away from it, we enter the realm of darkness and bitterness. We lose our way.
Let our tears be like those of Mary Magdalene, whose humble tears of love and thanksgiving were so profound that she washed Jesus’ feet with them and wiped them with her hair. “Do you see this woman? I entered into your house, and you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair.” (Luke 7: 44)
King David tells us that, “Those who sow tears will reap in joy.” (Psalms 126:5) Those tears David writes about here would be the holy waters of joy, compassion, and love. They would be the tears that water our efforts to love as Jesus loved.
Let our tears stream as holy waters then. In them we will share in God’s love for all of his creation. Let us cry for the suffering that comes about as a result of our sinfulness, but let those tears be tears of true sorrow, and true thanksgiving and God will turn them into the “holy water” of forgiveness. Let them flow out of compassion and He will turn them into the holy water of service to those who suffer.
Thanks be to God for the holy waters of our tears!!
Dan Doyle is a retired professor of English and Humanities. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology. To read more of Dan’s work, click here.