The “grace of tears” has been cherished throughout the Christian tradition. Jesus Himself was not immune to tears, as seen in James Tissot’s Jesus Wept.

Mary Marrocco: The gift of tears unlocks healing spirit

  • March 5, 2019

Her body is thin and tense. It carries the anguish, the hurts and false steps, of years. Her face does not as yet reveal the pain she’s known in her young life. She doesn’t cry. Alone, sometimes, she has bursts of uncontrollable stormy tears. Never the gentle kind and never for long. 

Being with her, it’s impossible not to feel those unshed tears. She does not want them. They bring the pain too close.  As many others have said, what’s the point in tears? They don’t help. They are futile.

It’s understandable that she feels this way. Tears are small, weak and insignificant. Just like us. Why be reminded of what we can’t change, and can’t bear? Isn’t it better to keep the pain at bay and get busy doing our jobs?

Certainly, we need this kind of inner discipline. Many circumstances in life require us to thrust down our real feelings and get our job done, whatever it may be. Being vulnerable and showing our pain doesn’t generally get us far when it comes to career-building, for instance. Locking the door to the place of tears seems more productive, and more normal, too.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, nobody can hold back an ocean forever. There’s a Pacific Ocean of tears inside us all and locking them in doesn’t make them go away. They will wait, but they will not forget their purpose. Have you noticed that saints’ faces, whether in statues or in icons, often are carved-out by tears? Even smooth marble or wooden skin shows the shadowy softness that only tears can bring. Shedding tears may not be career-promoting, but it may well be part of holiness. 

The “grace of tears” has been cherished down through the Christian tradition. St. Gregory of Nyssa long ago wrote that only through tears can we see what’s essential. Tears water the soul as rain waters the garden, St. Teresa of Avila found. 

Some people rarely cry and some complain that they can’t stop crying. Without tears, we can function, but we can’t become fully human and our souls can’t heal. We need our tears and we need to let them enter into the places that are thirsting for them. Physical and psychological tears can become spiritual tears. They are part of our healing, though it’s hard at times to let them in, or let them out.

When we weep, we share the tears of Christ. At the tomb of Lazarus — prefiguring His own tomb — we meet Jesus’ tears as witness of love. “Jesus wept. ‘See how much He loved him,’ they said” (John 11:35-36).

It’s going to be hard to get to the Resurrection without unlocking the place of tears (as the women who saw the empty tomb through their tears reported). What can help us, especially when we’re so adept at putting them in their place and pretending we don’t need them?

Often it’s the voice of kindness or caring that makes the lock spring open. “There are tears that burn until they fall,” says the song, and a word of love can invite them to spring forth. “Love, not pain, shall break your heart,” my uncle Bishop Marrocco wrote, “and free the hidden beauty I have carved on it.” We carry the pain; why not let the vessel be broken so the beauty can pour out?

Sometimes, paradoxically, we need to enter the desert to find the ocean. King David fled to the desert to hide from all the things pursuing him, and there discovered a waterfall that poured down on his parched skin and refreshed his heart as well as his body. 

Jesus went to the desert, not to hide, but out of the fullness of the Spirit within Him. If we accept the Church’s invitation to go to the desert, whether out of desperation like David or fullness of life like Jesus, will we find the key that unlocks the tears? Will we accept it?

God is gentle. The whole ocean of tears may not burst out all at once. Perhaps we couldn’t bear it. The tears may come a drop at a time, for a while.  That can be enough to keep the soul moist until the rain comes. 

There is another way, as the prophet shows us and as Lent urges us: help each other.  “Then you shall be like a watered garden … ‘repairers of the breach,’ you shall be called” (Isaiah 58). Then the tears shall be gentle and refreshing, when we weep together!

Tears are a gift. When we don’t know or don’t remember how to shed them, we can pray for the gift of tears. We don’t know the script. We know the Giver. He knows how to give tears to the young woman who cannot shed them.  Yet.

(Marrocco can be reached at

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