When I first came back to church after a long time away, I did a lot of crying in my pew. Not body-shaking, head-in-the-hands, puffy-eyed bawling but tears-just-barely-leaking-out silent weeping. I had an emotional and spiritual backlog of feelings that slowly came out out, little by little, over a period of years.
My tears were sometimes tears of grief, sometimes tears of joy, often tears of pure relief. And many, many tears of gratitude, too. I had so much emotion and I had been afraid I might be swept away by the force of it; but I found it safe to let my emotion come out by way of my tears in church.
Today I got another chance to shed a few tears at church, although technically I wasn't in church -- not the church building, anyway. We were in the parish hall, watching and listening to a presentation by the sixteen-year-olds who went on a pilgrimage to holy sites in Ireland earlier in the summer. Four pilgrims, my son among them, stood up in front of all of us and told us something about their own experience of being on an intentional spiritual journey together, about their expectations, insights, and their own gratitude for the opportunity -- and for their community. Most of them admitted that they didn't have "aha" moments as much as gradual realizations about their own spiritual lives. How connected they discovered themselves to be to each other, and to God, and especially to timeless creation itself.
They told about taking off their shoes to follow a 72-year old man who blazed a trail through the mud up a mountain and how that experience opened them up to discarding the things that blocked them from making authentic connection. They told about throwing rocks off cliffs into the sea 300 yards below --and with the rocks their burdens and worries. They told about learning to hit balls with hurley sticks from a 60-something guy who'd been hurling all his life.
They learned that everyone has a gift, a story, a life to share with others, and they experienced people sharing gifts with them in a new way.
And then we got to watch the slideshow - our teenagers hiking, posing, climbing, writing, dancing, holding tea parties, sleeping, meditating and playing amid ancient ruins and breathtaking scenery.
So what about the tears? I felt them welling up as soon as the kids began to speak - four of them, each presenting a thoughtful short reflection. Kids I'd known since they were babies now so poised and articulate and funny. I watched them, and the subsequent slide show, with eyes swimming with tears of pride, and gratitude, and a fierce love for my community that helped me and my family recognize, become acquainted with, and nourish our spiritual selves. The community that formed me and has formed my children into being the Body of Christ.
There are plenty of tears in the Bible, too. Like me, people shed tears of joy, of gratitude, of sorrow, of pain and grief and mourning, and tears of frustration, and finally, tears of relief as when Joseph is reunited with his brothers. God collects our tears, they are written in God's book, as it says in Psalm 58. And so my tears are written there, too. Thanks be to God.