When we moved back to St Paul, after 20 years of pilgrimage, although sometimes it felt like an exile, and started attending the church we soon joined, I cried at some point in every service. Often it was during communion, but sometimes it was during a hymn I loved or during the processional, and always during a baptism.
After awhile I simply decided that was the way it was. I have always been someone who cries easily; one of those people who cries during tender commercials no matter how many times I have seen the young man sneak quietly into the house on Christmas morning to surprise his unsuspecting parents. Perhaps I was now stockpiling my tears for Sunday mornings.
When we left church after a very moving Maundy Thursday service, however, I commented, quite pleased with myself, that I had not cried, and I realized I had not cried during church for a couple months or so. Except during baptisms, of course. Those sweet babies and the poignancy of one of our pastors carrying the baby down the center aisle so everyone can get a good look will always get me.
Well, so much for that theory. During the Good Friday service tears came after I and the rest of the congregation had come forth to drape red ribbons on the large wooden cross, symbolizing all we needed to lay at the foot of the cross, our regrets, our judgements and hurtful feelings, the harm we had done to ourselves and to others and to the world. I was dry-eyed when I sat down in the pew, but then our senior pastor solemnly bent down and kissed the cross. Tears come now even just remembering the moment. Well, it was Good Friday, a sober day in the season of our faith, so a tear or two should not be a surprise.
Then it was Easter morning, a day, as one of our pastors said, that is an "explosion of love." This time the tears started as early as the first strains of the traditional, Easter hymn, "Jesus Christ is Risen Today. Alleluia." The brass, the bells and chimes, the flowers on the cross, the long procession. You know how it is when you feel a stinging in your eyes and you know there is no way to prevent tears? And I had forgotten to put a clean handkerchief in my purse. Oh well. Let the tears come.
So what is the meaning of all these tears?
We had been unchurched or partially churched for a long time in our years since moving away from Minnesota. In Ohio we did our best to find a church home and were in fact members of a Lutheran congregation for awhile and were also regular attendees of two different Episcopal churches as well, but we never really settled in. That was shocking for us in a way, for we had been so involved in our church in Minnesota. We had naturally thought we would quickly find a church in Cleveland, but in spite of trying, we didn't find our pew. There are reasons for that which are too long for this post, but know we did try.
It was during those years of being partially churched that I trained as a spiritual director and was exposed to a variety of spiritual practices, which continue to undergird my personal faith explorations. This was a time of deep stretching for me.
When we moved to Madison, which is more in the heartland of Lutheranism, our preferred denomination, we assumed once again we would find our place, but that was not to be. To be honest, we didn't try as hard as we did in Cleveland. We had come to enjoy a more unstructured Sunday morning and when we were with family in Minnesota, which was often, we enjoyed going to church with them. Occasionally, I would attend a service here and there, hoping I might recognize a feeling of "This is it," but perhaps I wasn't listening well enough. I participated in centering prayer groups and met with a spiritual director and continued practicing various spiritual practices on a regular basis, and all that was good.
Then we moved home. Full circle. And that's when the Sunday morning ritual of tears began. I felt as if the stone had been rolled away from the tomb. I had buried the empty feelings of not being part of an ongoing community. Even though I still struggle with some aspect of the theology presented in our liturgy and even though I shudder at some of what the church has represented and done over the centuries, I have missed not having the place where I can open my heart and address my own questions and wonderings. I have missed hearing my own voice merging with others, as well as sitting in silence with those known and unknown to me.
My tears were (are) part of coming home, of finding home, of being home. My tears are a visible sign that I have returned, and I have been welcomed.
Another story--perhaps it is related and perhaps, not, but I want to tell it anyway. Many years ago the Cleveland Museum of Art hosted an exhibit from the Vatican and part of the exhibit was a painting by Caravaggio, The Entombment of Christ, depicting Jesus' dead body being laid to rest in a tomb. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Entombment_of_Christ_(Caravaggio) It is a large painting, and in the museum it was in a room by itself. I toured the exhibit with our son Geof, who at that time was a student at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. I love going to museums with him, for he teaches me how to see, always quietly pointing out something I otherwise would have missed. More than once those near us have sensed a teacher in their midst and have moved in closer to hear what he is saying.
This time Geof suggested I get down on my knees as close to the lower left hand corner of the painting that was allowed. In doing that I had the perspective of receiving the body. My heart reached out, "Here, let me help." I felt myself in the tomb along with Jesus and the others who loved him dearly. Soon others viewing the painting were on their knees as well. In a way we had formed a spontaneous worshipping community.
I will never forget that moment.
I think I have needed to spend time in the tomb. It has not been wasted time or time without spiritual fruits, but now is the time to emerge from the tomb. The stone has been rolled away and I am finding new life, even as I come full circle.
I realize the Easter story may not be your story, but I know we have each had times in our life of being entombed or times when we have felt hopeless on the other side of the deep dark and have been unable to roll away the stone, our own obstacles to new understandings and to the ability to take the next step. Have there been times when you have been asked to lift your hands and say, "Here, let me help."? What have those times meant for your spiritual growth? Are you in the tomb now? Are you waiting for the stone to be rolled away? Or are you now discovering life outside the entombment of old feelings, old hurts and transgressions? Are there tears? I would love to know.