- dawn in the desert -
Throughout the day yesterday I kept coming across one particular, “hauntingly tender” image of the President of the United States embracing an elderly and somewhat frail Japanese man at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima. When the atom bomb was dropped on that city 71 years ago, that man was an 8 year-old boy who, at the time, lived very near to the epicenter of the explosion yet somehow managed to survive. After giving his speech yesterday, President Obama greeted some of the folks who lived through the devastation of the Hiroshima bomb and when he came to that now-elderly man, they both embraced - the president had tears in his eyes and the old man wept openly.
Over and over, throughout the day yesterday I kept seeing the image of that tearful embrace. I saw it on TV, I saw it in the newspapers and in the social media. And, without exception, every time I saw it, I was moved to tears myself. I found it to be such a sacred, holy moment.
Today as I looked out into the wilderness around my house I reflected on yesterday’s scene of “once-enemies” now weeping together and I was immediately reminded of the 4th century Christian Desert Mothers and Fathers who lived in a desert like the one in which I now call my home. For them, weeping was a spiritual act and tears were a gift.
Those ancient monks wrote about embracing a spirituality of weeping, using the Greek word penthos to describe the tears of their spiritual experiences. Penthos is best translated as:
A profound piercing of the heart that wells up into tears.
The desert monks embraced “tears” as a holy gift, they saw tears as the language of transcendence, the currency of the thin places in life. When the veil between humanity and divinity is so porous and so paper thin, it pierces the heart and this piercing wells up and pours out into tears.
This kind of holy weeping cannot be engineered, manufactured or planned- holy tears come unexpectedly and mysteriously. The tears of penthos bubble up from the very core of one’s humanity, they come from the most intimate, fragile and vulnerable places of the human heart. Holy tears are like a spring of refreshing water gushing up into the dry and arid desert soil.
I am reminded of a Native American proverb:
The soul would have no rainbow if the eyes had no tears.
Yesterday, as one might expect, several critics of the president scolded him for weeping in public - powerful people (especially powerful men) aren’t supposed to express emotions in this way. After all, we live in a culture in which weeping is not highly regarded and tears are symptoms of weakness, to be avoided at all costs. When we see someone weeping over the death of a loved one we often comfort them with the admonition “Don’t cry it will be alright.” When we see someone in pain we do our best to wipe away their tears.
And yet, as I see it, when we suppress our tears we block “transcendence” from bubbling up and we rob ourselves of the language of the thin places in life.
Yesterday as I was “brought to tears” whenever I witnessed that tender scene of “holy weeping” at the Peace Park in Hiroshima, I celebrated the gift of penthos given to me on my own spiritual journey.
I open my heart that it might be pierced so deeply that it will well up into tears.
Author and poet, Paul Coelho, put it this way:
Be aware of the places where you are brought to tears,
that’s where your treasure is.