"A Thin Space"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
The other day I read a story about the recent visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines. During an open-air Mass attended by millions of people, a little 12 year old girl who had once lived hungry and homeless on the street, tearfully asked the Pope why God would allow innocent children to suffer? I was very taken by the Pope's obviously emotional response:
Only when we are able to cry are we able to come close to responding to your question.
Those on the margins cry. Those who have fallen by the wayside cry,
those who are discarded cry.
But those who are living a life that is more or less without need don't know how to cry.
There are some realities you can only see through eyes that have been
cleansed by tears.
I found a profound wisdom in this response to that little girl - tears are often a sign that we have entered into a "thin space" where the veil between humanity and divinity is but a breath apart. When we are totally self-sufficient we don't need anyone other than ourselves; but when we are in need, when we suffer, we become vulnerable-- opened to the care of others, opened to the energy of "God," the abiding Presence in our midst.
As I see it "God" is not a divine super being who causes suffering or allows it to happen. However, when we are in pain, when we are in a dry place, when we have hit the bottom in our lives, and we cry; "God" cries with us - "God" in the tears. I think the Pope got it right when he said that "there are some realities you can only see through eyes that have been cleansed by tears."
My spiritual ancestors, the 4th century Desert Mothers and Fathers, were very fond of their tears--they cherished tears, in fact they prayed for the gift of tears.
"Penthos" is the Greek word that often appears in the writings of the desert monastics, translated as "a profound piercing of the heart that wells up in tears." This gift of "Penthos" can not be manufactured or engineered or even planned- tears happen when you enter into thin spaces in life. Tears spontaneously bubble up from the deepest part of our humanity, like a spring of refreshing water gushing up into the driest desert places of our lives.
In our own culture tears are not so highly prized- we often comfort those who are afflicted by telling them "not to cry." We learn to hold back our tears because they are a sign of weakness- especially among men.
As I sit here in my Desert Retreat House this morning, I want to reclaim "cleansing tears" as a spiritual gift. I open my heart to "Penthos," a piercing so profound that it wells up in tears.
There are some realties you can only see through eyes that have been
cleansed by tears.