Collecting Our Tears

| March 28th, 2024

Dear Beloved Community,

In author Sarah Bessey’s new book, Field Notes for the Wilderness: Practices for an Evolving Faith, she speaks of the wilderness of lament. Far too often, she reminds her readers, people of faith find their foundation upends with heartaches. Long-held platitudes and black-and-white “answers” about suffering simply can’t hold up to the storms of life. Tragedies force a reckoning with the character and nature of God. Trauma touches every square inch of our living. Loss accumulates and compounds, and sometimes before we even know it, we find ourselves deep in the wilderness with God seemingly absent, leaving behind an ache we can hardly endure. 

She tells of a long season of loss in her life, and in an attempt to stave off the crumbling foundation and refuse the pull to “spiritually bypass” it all, she followed the guidance of her spiritual director and took up a new practice. Sarah found an old jam jar in her kitchen, filled it with water, and sat it on her desk. Just beside it, she filled a small dish with salt and laid a spoon on top. Every time she felt sadness, she says, “rather than distracting myself or pretending to be fine or whatever trick I wanted to pull to numb or avoid the feelings, [I] dropped some salt into the water. In this way, I would actively embody the truth that God holds our tears.”

A spoonful of salt for all the losses of income and companionship wrought by covid. A spoonful of salt for physical pain that wouldn’t let up. Salt for Black men killed at traffic stops. Salt for a friend’s son who lost his battle with mental illness. Salt for her child who was lonely at school lunch, and salt for the tragic death of her best friend. “Slowly, slowly,” she said, “I began to learn to feel my grief instead of stuff it down or hide it away or reason with it…. Each grain of salt reminded me of what the Psalmist wrote, ‘you keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.’ It is a form of soul care to embody that hope that God is with us, still, in the heartbreak of our lives too.”

Right here on the brink of the hardest, holiest days in the Christian calendar, this reminder of the presence of God in and through suffering is at its apex.  We go with him into the garden, and groan with him in his agony. We walk with him to Calvary, and stand in the shadows of the cross as the unthinkable unfolds. We pour our spoons of salt for the diagnosis, the abuse, the fear, the isolation, the unshakeable sadness that not even the sunniest spring day can abate, and trust that God collects these tears with love.

For there’s no clearer love, no bolder truth of God’s steadfast presence in this world than a crucified God who suffers with us to the very end. Light undimmed by the shadows of death. Love unyielding to the torrents of hate. Life in fullest measure, a new creation in abundance. 

I invite you to experience the fullness of this season and the relentless reminder of God’s presence through our Holy Week services at First on Fifth this week. Though we’ll bring our vulnerability to tonight’s Maundy Thursday service and sit in the anguish of Good Friday, we engage these movements to tether us amidst the pull of bypassing it all for Easter joy. 

May we not lose hope, for the God of a laden cross is the God of an empty tomb! 

Together in God’s work of Love,

Pastor Emily