The Gift of Charismatic Tears


Here’s the truth—I cry way too easily. Whenever I am emotionally invested in anything, the tears are never far away. This has been true for me as long as I can remember and it has taken me a long lifetime to learn that these tears are a gift. In truth, they are among the most powerful weapons in my particular arsenal. I have come to believe they are evidence of the Holy Spirit, alive and well within. I believe these tears that come to me at regular intervals are my own personal charism, my prayer language.

I did not grow up with any exposure to charismatic Christianity, although my maternal grandmother and her sister and cousins regularly attended Aimee Semple MacPherson’s temple in Echo Park, Los Angeles. So there’s some connection in there somewhere! One of the women who lived in the house I shared with about a dozen others during college came from that community, but other than that, I had no point of reference to any part of this rich and diverse tradition.

Then I went to seminary and studied church history. That opened my mind and my heart to lots of new and different ideas and experiences about this journey we are on as followers of Jesus. A dozen or more years later, when I was searching for a new spiritual director, I found a website for a Benedictine abbey in San Luis Opisbo, a lovely town about a 75-minute drive north of where I live. I sent an email to inquire about the possibility of finding a director there.

I never heard a word from anyone.

About 14 months later I got an early morning phone call out of the blue: “Abbot David here. You wrote about spiritual direction.” My immediate response was laughter! It seemed so odd to me to hear from this guy after such a long time. I explained my response carefully and he said, “All I know is, I just got this message today!”

The timing of that receipt has always felt God-ordained to me. I was in the middle of one of the longest, toughest seasons of my life, both personally and professionally. My need went deep, deep, deep. That early morning phone call began something true and important inside of me—it marked the beginning of a season of discernment, testing, and trusting.

And so began a three-year journey with this dear man, followed by an additional year completing my own training in spiritual direction—in the small school that he had founded, right here in my hometown. Turns out this small band of brothers were—you guessed it!—charismatic Benedictine Catholics. Who knew?

In my two years of training I spent a lot of time worshipping in their tradition, listening to—and joining in with—singing in the Spirit. My time with these saints was one of the richest experiences of my life. No, I never received a prayer language that sounded like theirs. But those tears? Oh, yeah. They showed up regularly.

Here is what I know about them now: tears—offered in worship, prayer, or song—are as sure a sign of the presence of the Holy One as anything else I know about. They are reminders that the body’s natural response to both sorrow and joy is often very wet! They call us to honest exploration of our own personal journey and inner life; they speak of love and joy, sorrow and sadness, truth and goodness. And in a strange but powerful way, they make space inside us for the hard work that we are called to do, the battle that is ours.

My life did not get easier at the end of that season. In many ways, it is more difficult now than it ever has been. It is also more rich, more layered, more multi-dimensional, more satisfying. The battles I wage at this stage of the journey are ones that need those tears and the space they create within me.

ALL of us need to step away from the battlefront from time to time in order to be more fully fit to return to it. Lament, laughter, rest and refreshment are more effective weapons than any I know of to stay strong in the midst of the struggle. Far from a sign of weakness, holy tears are a demonstration of strength, of vibrancy, of our honest recognition that we cannot do the work of righteousness without stepping out of the fray and re-charging on a regular basis. To be an effective warrior requires getting wet, allowing this particular sacramental water to cleanse, refresh, and nourish us along the way.