Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

Sermon on the Mount: Week 1

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn
Thursday, February 1, 2018

Blessed are those who mourn: they shall be comforted. —Matthew 5:4

Tears are therapeutic and healing, both emotionally and physically. Crying helps the body shed stress hormones and stimulates endorphins. Weeping is a natural and essential part of being human. Eknath Easwaran writes:

We can spend the better part of our lives attempting to construct the perfect personal environment, a kind of bubble that will insulate us against everything that is unpleasant. But sorrow is woven into the very texture of life. Pain, disappointment, depression, illness, bereavement, a sense of inadequacy in our work or our relationships . . . the list could go on and on. . . .

Is there meaning in this pattern, in the inescapable mingling of sorrow and joy? The mystics say there is. If tears are a fact of life, they have several lessons to teach us, and the first is to learn to keep on an even keel through life’s inevitable storms. . . . [1]

The Syrian Fathers Ephrem and Simeon weren’t as familiar in Western Christianity as the Greek and Latin Fathers after the early centuries of the Church. The Greek and Latin Fathers tended to filter the Gospel through the head; the Syrian Fathers’ theology was much more localized in the body. They actually proposed that tears be a sacrament in the Church. Saint Ephrem went so far as to say until you have cried you don’t know God.

Most of us think we know God—and ourselves—through ideas. Yet corporeal, embodied theology acknowledges that perhaps weeping will allow us to know God much better than ideas. In this Beatitude, Jesus praises those who can enter into solidarity with the pain of the world and not try to remove or isolate themselves from its suffering. This is why Jesus says the rich person often can’t see the Kingdom, because they spend too much time trying to make tears unnecessary and even impossible.

Jesus describes those who grieve as feeling the pain of the world. Weeping over our sin and the sin of the world is an entirely different response than self-hatred or hatred of others. Grief allows one to carry the dark side, to bear the pain of the world without looking for perpetrators or victims, but instead recognizing the tragic reality that both sides are caught up in. Tears from God are always for everyone, for our universal exile from home. “It is Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted” (Jeremiah 31:15). I am grateful that the new emergence of hospice work, bereavement ministries, and formal “grief work” seems to indicate we are beginning to understand this. In Men’s Rites of Passage, the “day of grief” is often the turning point toward a man’s initiation. Men finally discover that so much of what they thought was anger was actually sadness, loss, and grief. [2]

Tears seem ridiculous in a culture like ours which is so focused on diversions and entertainment, and are especially a stumbling block to men. Crying will make us look vulnerable. So many men hold back tears. Is it no wonder men don’t live as long as women, on average? We must teach all young people how to cry. Now, in my later years, I finally understand why Saints Francis and Clare cried so much, and why the saints spoke of “the gift of tears.”

References:
[1] Eknath Easwaran, Original Goodness: On the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount (Nilgiri Press: 1996), 114-115.
[2] See Illuman, illuman.org, for more information and resources on men’s spirituality and initiation.

Adapted from Richard Rohr with John Bookser Feister, Jesus’ Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount (Franciscan Media: 1996), 133-134.

Image credit: Old Horse in the Wasteland (detail), by Charles Cottet, 1898, Ohara Museum of Art, Kurashiki, Japan.
How blessed (or “happy”) are the poor in spirit; the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. —Matthew 5:3
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