Do you ever find yourself, during this time of COVID-19, experiencing unexpected tears?
We’ve all walked, on the news, through hospital corridors we never planned to visit. We’ve heard heartbreaking stories from families, the pleas of health care workers, the frustration and fatigue of teachers. We’ve seen refrigerated trucks holding overflow bodies, and we’ve done something we hadn’t previously imagined: We’ve livestreamed, rather than attended, a funeral of someone we loved.
One image endures, this reported on several sites: two little children, sitting on the curb outside a fast-food joint, trying to access the restaurant’s WiFi so they could “go” to school.
Or here’s my little kindergarten friend in Anchorage, Alaska. The public schools there have been entirely virtual all year, so the fun and new friendships of her first school year have come down to a panel of rectangles on a screen.
In a photo, she wears pajamas and a pair of swimming goggles. It isn’t an online school day; it’s an “independent study” day, whatever that means to a 6-year-old. Apparently, it means something as she’s studiously bowed over her worksheet. On the other hand, maybe she’s just squinting to see through those goggles.
The thing that tugged at my heart: Before COVID-19, her grandma took her and her sister to swimming lessons once a week. Now, she can’t do that so instead she wears those swimming goggles to wade through the murky, lonely waters of COVID-19 kindergarten homework.
It’s Advent, and our faith and our hearts tell us that we are waiting for the great feast that celebrates God’s Incarnation into this weary world, as well as anticipation of his second coming.
We also believe that he, Jesus, is already among us. That reign of God of which he spoke, that beloved community, it’s here, yet always straining to be here more visibly, more inclusively. We see through a glass, darkly, St. Paul said, or perhaps it’s like searching for the kingdom through those swimming goggles.
Our faith boils down to the beautiful prayer sometimes called St. Patrick’s Breastplate. It’s an ancient Irish prayer, and there are long versions and shorter.
But it’s theme: Christ.
“I arise today, through Christ’s strength. … Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me” … and more.
I have a recording of someone singing this prayer, and on days when I find it hard to pray, I listen, sometimes over and over. And sometimes it brings me to tears. During COVID-19, I have sometimes found myself crying, especially in prayer, inexplicably.
St. Ignatius says that tears can be a spiritual gift. They reveal things to us.
The American writer Frederick Buechner tells us that you should pay attention when you find tears in your eyes, especially when they seem to come unexpectedly.
“More often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go to next.”
Constant tears can signal depression and are not good signs. But tears that spring forth in solidarity with the suffering, that draw us closer to the kingdom Jesus came to call forth, those can be good tears.
This Advent, find time to laugh. Revel in the bright lights. Make time for silence. And listen quietly to what God might be telling you through tears.