Crying is not a weakness; it can be helpful in our spiritual walk.
In Homer’s time, the most valiant warriors let their tears flow freely. Nowadays, tears are often considered a sign of weakness. Yet, they can be a true sign of strength and say a lot about us.
Whether repressed or free-flowing, tears have a thousand faces. Sister Anne Lécu, Dominican, philosopher, prison doctor, and author of Des larmes [On tears], explains to us how tears can be a true gift.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Mt 5:4). How do you interpret this beatitude working, as you do, in a place of great suffering?
Anne Lécu : It is a provocative beatitude that must be taken without over-interpreting it. There are indeed many people who experience terrible things, who cry, and who will not be consoled, who will not laugh today or tomorrow. That said, when these people cannot cry, their suffering is worse. When someone cries, they usually cry to someone, even if that person is not physically there, someone remembered, someone they have loved; in any case, they are not in a totally desolate loneliness. Unfortunately, we see many people in prison who can no longer cry.
Is an absence of tears something to worry about?
The absence of tears is much more worrying than tears! It is either a sign that the soul has become numb or a sign of too much loneliness. There is horrible suffering behind dry eyes. One of my incarcerated patients had skin sores on several parts of her body for several months. We didn’t know how to treat it. But one day she said to me, “You know, the oozing sores on my skin, it’s my soul suffering. It’s the tears that I can’t cry.”
Doesn’t the third beatitude promise that there will be consolation in the Kingdom of Heaven?
Certainly, but the Kingdom begins now! Simeon the New Theologian said in the 10th century: “Let him say farewell to eternal life he who has not found it here on earth.” What is promised us is not only consolation in the hereafter, but also the assurance that from the very heart of misfortune can come joy. This is the danger of utilitarianism: today, we no longer think that we can be both sad and peaceful at the same time. Tears assure us that we can.
In your book Des larmes, you write: “Our tears escape us and we cannot totally analyze them.”
Because we never totally understand ourselves! It is a myth, a contemporary mirage, that we can fully see ourselves and others. We have to learn to accept our opacity and our finitude: that’s what growing up is all about. People cried more in the Middle Ages. However, tears are going to disappear with modernity. Why? Because our modernity is driven by control. We imagine that because we see, we know, and that if we know, we can. Well, it’s not like that! Tears are a liquid that distorts the gaze. But we see through tears things that we would not see in a pure surface vision. Tears say what is in us as blurry, opaque, and deformed, but they also speak of what is in us that is greater than ourselves.
How do you distinguish real tears from “crocodile tears”?
One day a little girl answered her mother who had asked her why she was crying: “When I cry, I love you better.” Genuine tears are those that help you love better, those that are given without having been sought. False tears are those that have nothing to offer, but aim to obtain something or are given as a show. We can see this distinction with Jean-Jacques Rousseau and St. Augustine. Rousseau never stops enumerating his tears, putting them on stage and watching himself cry, which does not move me at all. St. Augustine cries because he looks at Christ who has moved him and hopes that his tears will lead us to Him.
Tears reveal something about us, but they also wake us up. Because only the living cry. And whoever cries has a heart that burns. Their ability to suffer, even to share, is awakened. To cry is to feel affected by something that is beyond us and to hope for comfort. It is no coincidence that the Gospels tell us that, on the morning of the Resurrection, it was Mary Magdalene, who had wept the most, who received the greatest joy (Jn 20:11-18).
What does Mary Magdalene teach us about this gift of tears?
Her legend combines the roles of the sinful woman who weeps at the feet of Jesus, of Mary (the sister of Lazarus) who mourns her dead brother, and of the one who remains weeping at the empty tomb. The monks of the desert wove together these three figures, prompting the faithful to cry tears of penance, tears of compassion and tears of desire for God.
Mary Magdalene also teaches us that whoever is torn by tears is, at the same time, unified in them. She is thewoman who cries with despair at the death of her Lord and with joy at seeing Him again; she is the woman who weeps her sins and sheds tears of gratitude because she is forgiven. She incarnates the third beatitude! In her tears there is, as in all tears, a paradoxical power of transformation. Blinding, they give sight. From pain, they can also become a soothing balsam.
She cried three times, and so did Jesus!
That’s right. The Scriptures show that Jesus wept three times. Over Jerusalem and the hardening of the hearts of its inhabitants. Then, at the death of Lazarus, He weeps the sad and sweet tears of love afflicted by death. At that moment, Jesus weeps over the death of man: He weeps over every man, every woman, every child who dies.
Finally, Jesus weeps in Gethsemane.
Yes, in the Garden of Olives, the Messiah’s tears pass through the night to ascend to God who seems to be hidden. If Jesus is indeed the Son of God, then it is God who weeps and begs. His tears envelop all the pleas of all times. They carry them until the end of time, until that new day comes, when, as the Apocalypse promises, God will have his final dwelling place with mankind. Then He will wipe every tear from our eyes!
Do the tears of Christ “bring along” each of our tears?
From then on, no tears are lost anymore! Because the Son of God wept tears of anguish, desolation and pain, every person can believe, indeed, that every tear since then is harvested like a fine pearl by the Son of God. Every tear of a son of man is a tear of the Son of God. This is what the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas sensed and expressed in this brilliant formula: “No tear should be lost, no death should remain without resurrection.”
The spiritual tradition that has developed the “gift of tears” is inserted in this radical discovery: if God Himself weeps, it is because tears are a path to Him, a place to find Him since He remains there, a response to His presence. These tears should be simply received more than thought out, in the same way that we receive a friend or a gift from a friend.
Interview by Luc Adrian
Why we shouldn’t hold back our tears