The Gift of Tears

"Like every human being who hungers and thirsts for justice and peace, Dorothy Day had periods of complete exhaustion, sorrow, and pain. I was told that she would then withdraw and cry — for hours and days. She would sit there, talk to no one, eat nothing, and just cry. She did not withdraw from her struggle-filled, active life for the poorest of the poor. She never ceased to look upon war, and preparation for war, as a crime against the poor. But at certain times she wept, long and bitterly.

"When I discovered this, I understood better what pacifism is, what God means in the midst of defeat, how the spirit comforts us and leads us into truth. I understood that comfort is not had by giving up truth, that one does not happen at the expense of the other. That Dorothy Day cried for days on end means for me that the Spirit's consolation bears, at the same time, its own inconsolability. With Dorothy Day, we can learn to pray for the gift of tears."
— Dorothee Soelle in Against the Wind

A Magical Saying to Dissolve Sadness

A great king summoned his wise men. He ordered them, "Create for me a saying that will stabilize my inner state. When I am unhappy it will bring me joy, and when I am happy it will remind me of sadness. It cannot be too long, as I want to keep it with me always."

The wise men consulted and contemplated deeply the king's command. Finally, they returned to the king bearing a small box. In it there was a ring, and inside the ring was inscribed the following words: "This too shall pass."
— Attar in Essential Sufism by James Fadiman and Robert Frager, editors

Meeting Jesus at the Airport

"I don't often remember my dreams, nor do I put much stock in them, but, several years ago, I had a dream that caused me to do both. It highlights the most important of all truths: that God is love and that only by letting that kind of love into our lives can we save ourselves from disappointment, shame, and sadness. It went something like this:

"For whatever reason, and dreams don't give you a reason, I was asked to go to an airport and pick up Jesus, who was arriving on a flight. I was understandably nervous and frightened. A bevy of apprehensions beset me: How would I recognize him? What would he look like? How would he react to me? What would I say to him? Would I like what I saw? More frightening yet, would he like what he saw when he looked at me?

"With those feelings surging through me, I stood, as one stands in a dream, at the end of a long corridor nervously surveying the passengers who were walking toward me. How would I recognize Jesus, and would his first glance at me reflect his disappointment?

"But this was a good dream and it taught me as much about God as I'd learned in all my years of studying theology. All of my fears were alleviated in a second. What happened was the opposite of all my expectations: Suddenly, walking down the corridor toward me was Jesus, smiling, beaming with delight, coming straight for me, rushing, eager to meet me. Everything about him was stunningly and wonderfully disarming. There was no awkward moment; everything about him erased that. His eyes, his face, and his body embraced me without reserve and without judgment. I knew he saw straight through me, knew all my faults and weaknesses, my lack of substance, and none of it mattered. And, for that moment, none of it mattered to me either. Jesus was eager to meet me!

"In a moment like this, one forgets everything, except that God is here. There's no place for fear or shame or wondering what God thinks of you. That's a lesson all of us must somehow learn, somehow experience. We live with too much fear of God. Partly it is bad theology, but mostly we fear God because we've never experienced the kind of love that is manifest in God. We take for granted that anyone who sees us as we really are (in our unloveliness, weaknesses, pathology, sin, insubstantiality) will, in the end, be as disappointed with us as we are with ourselves.

"At the end of the day, we expect that God is disappointed with us and will greet us with a frown. The tragedy and sadness here is that we avoid God when we are most in need of love and acceptance. Because we think God is disappointed in us, especially at those times when we are disappointed in ourselves, we fail to meet the one person, the one love, and the one energy — God — that actually understands us, accepts us, delights in us, and is eager to smile at us."
— Ronald Rolheiser in Prayer: Our Deepest Longing

The Power of Thankfulness

"There is a story of an old wise woman named Suko who lived in Japan and was known for her great joy. One day a man came to visit her and said, 'I am very self-centered and unhappy most of the time. Please tell me how to become joyous.' Suko replied, 'Whatever happens to you, simply say to the universe, "Thank you; thank you for everything. I have no complaints whatsoever." ' She told him to come back in a year and report to her his progress.

"The man left and one year later returned to Suko. He reported that he had been doing what she had told him. He had been saying 'thank you' for everything. But, alas, he said he was still self-absorbed and miserable. 'Now what?' he asked.

"And Suko said, 'Again say, "Thank you. Thank you for all of it. I have no complaints whatsoever." ' It is said that the man realized in that moment the true power of gratitude, that there was no exception to what one can be thankful for, and that even his misery could be seen with appreciation. It had worn down his resistance, humbled him, and brought him to the wise woman. As the story goes, he entered into a stream of everlasting joy."
— Catherine Ingram in Passionate Presence

Ripped-off Radios

"For a couple of years, it seemed that whenever I went to New York, my car would get broken into and my radio ripped off. I'd been invited to a friend's wedding in Queens. I told Dipa Ma that I was thinking of taking the train because my radio always gets stolen.

" 'Don't be silly,' she said.'Go by car.'

"So we ended up taking the car, which by that time had a security system installed on it. We parked the car and went to the wedding. When we came out, sure enough, my car had been broken into yet again. This time they took not only the radio but all my tapes, too.

"When we got back, I walked into the house, and Dipa Ma asked, 'How was the wedding?'

" 'The wedding was great,' I said. 'But my car got broken into again, and the radio was stolen. I'm really upset.'

"Dipa Ma just burst out laughing.

" 'What's so funny?'

" 'You must have been a thief in your former lifetime. How many more times do you think you will need to have your radio stolen?'

" 'You tell me,' I demanded. 'How many more times? Tell me, so I can be prepared.'

"Ignoring my question, she asked, 'What did you do? What was your reaction when the car was broken into?'

" 'I was really angry because it's happened so many times. And I thought I had a security system.'

"She looked at me with amazement. 'You mean you didn't even think about the man who took your radio, how sad his life must be?'

"She closed her eyes and started chanting quietly to herself, and I knew she was saying metta [lovingkindness blessings] for the thief. It was a wonderful lesson for me."
— Steven Schwartz in Dipa Ma by Amy Schmidt

Sharing the Sorrow

"Soyen Shaku, the abbot, each morning took a walk accompanied by his companion from the monastery to the nearby town. One day, as he passed a house, he heard a great cry from within it. Stopping to inquire, he asked the inhabitants, 'Why are you all wailing so?' They said: 'Our child has died and we are grieving.'

"The abbot without hesitation sat down with the family and started crying and wailing himself. As they were returning to the monastery, the abbot's companion asked, 'Master, is this family known to you?' 'No,' the abbot answered. 'Why then, Master, did you also cry?' The abbot said simply, 'So that I may share their sorrow.' "
— Aaron Zerah in As You Grieve: Consoling Words From Around the World

Tea with God

"I once spoke at a large retreat for those in ministry. In my talk I told of a night in my deepest grief when I sat at my kitchen table and imagined myself having a cup of tea with God. Months later, a minister who had attended that conference now was attending a seminar in Boston, where I was living at the time, and he called to invite me to dinner. The conversation in the restaurant was lively, but as we prepared to leave, his face suddenly became the face of a small boy. With great courage he asked whether we could stop at my apartment and 'have tea with God.'

"I searched his eyes. Ordinarily it would be unthinkable to take such a risk with a virtual stranger. But I could find no trace of danger in his countenance. On the contrary, he seemed quite vulnerable.

"Trusting an instinct I did not fully understand, I drove with this man in silence back to my apartment. He sat at the table while I boiled water. I slowly prepared the tea, using the teapot and the same two cups I had once used 'with God.' I was leaving the next morning for a ten-day trip, so I had nothing else on hand to offer him.

"We sipped the tea without speaking. I don't remember the silence as being awkward. We were just still. In my mind I was thinking, I knew this wouldn't work. You can't force something meaningful to happen. Nevertheless, a penetrating sadness was beginning to grip me. I kept glancing at his face. I had no idea, really, who he was or what pain he lived with. I just felt that something deep within him longed to touch something true. And whatever he sought had obviously eluded him. I sat there praying for him to one day find what he was looking for.

"Then, without thinking, in a daze, I dimly remembered that I had bought a loaf of bread that day, and it was in my briefcase. The purchase had made no sense at all, even at the time. I lived alone and I was leaving for ten days. No one buys a loaf of homemade bread on the eve of a trip. Nevertheless, I remembered that the bread was there, and without giving it much thought, I went to the kitchen, took it from my briefcase and cut a large slice. Still without words, I put the bread in front of the minister. Cookies or a slice of pie would have been more appropriate, I knew that. But the bread was all I had.

"He looked at the plate for several moments, then took the bread and broke it into two pieces, handing half to me. I put it to my mouth not thinking anything. It was just a slice of bread. But the minute that bread touched both of our lips, he sobbed out loud. Tears filled the minister's eyes. We were both hit hard by a force that was palpable. We never finished the tea or the bread. When he composed himself, he moved toward the door and I drove him back to his hotel in silence. I couldn't have spoken if I needed to.

"God may have responded to my prayer that night, but I doubt it. I don't think that's what God responds to. I think God responded to the love in the prayer. I think God responded because both hearts were open.

"Everything, really, is miracle. Verona, on starlit nights. A simple box of note cards and an ordinary candle. A pot of tea. A slice of bread. If only we could always see the real wonder of things.

"The crowds surrounding Jesus kept asking him to produce miracles in order to sustain their belief. Give us signs, give us wonders! All the while, something great had already consciously taken on limitation in order to give rise to something even greater.

"Wherever there is love, there will be the emergence of this power. The question is, will we see it? And will we allow ourselves to be changed?"
— Paula D'Arcy in Seeking With All My Heart