Monday, November 24, 2008

Tears and Fire: Recovering a Neglected Tradition IX

Recent studies show that the biochemical processes in irritant or emotional tears relieve stress. Stress is caused by the adaptation of the human person to natural evolutionary change, interplay with other creatures and the environment, and by certain large shifts in life, such as change of job, death of a loved one, divorce. [This paper was published twenty years ago. It is now known that stress is far greater in an urban environment and that deprivation of nature can result in psychosis.] Preliminary findings show tht certain substances that are stress-related are excreted in tears, and that unshed tears lead to many kinds of illness, both physical and psychological. While irritant and emotional tears can be studied in the laboratory, holy tears cannot. But it is significant that emotional tears of joy last but a few moments, while holy tears are unending. Laboratory studies confirm the observations of Isaac, John Climacus, and Symeon the New Theologian that the ability to weep is partly related to genetic disposition, partly to cultural conditioning. Difficulty in weeping can be overcome by willingness to be transformed. [6]

Isaac says emphatically that he will not believe someone's metanoia until he sees this person weep. Isaac's contemporary, John Climacus, seems to be more moderate, saying that he prizes the single tear of someone who finds it nearly impossible to weep. Symeon echoes Isaac by saying tears are mandatory. The seeming contradiction between Climacus and the other two can be resolved by understanding that a person who laments the inability to weep discovers that something fundamental in the inner life must be changed, and that it is possible to become vulnerable to weeping if one is willing. The key here is the willingness to be transformed, to undergo the pain of transformation.

[6] See William Frey, Crying, the Mystery of Tears (Minneapolis 1985).


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