The Alchemy of Love
It was definitely the ugly cry; face all contorted, mascara running down your cheeks, body wracked with heaving sobs. It was a week ago Sunday. I had gone to the front for communion, the weekly tradition at our church, and then stepped over to one of the prayer volunteers, my friend Jen, who had no words for me, only tears. It was the most memorable prayer ever prayed on my behalf.
I walked back to my seat and asked another friend, Christy, if she had any tissues. She did not, and I noticed she had tears in her eyes. That is when the flow commenced and would not be stanched. Christy sat down, arms encompassing me. Another hand massaged my back, and then another. I’m still not sure whose hands were on my tired shoulders, and it does not matter. I was being cared for.
I was able to weep and make mournful sounds as long as the communion music was playing, but then it ended and announcements began. I stifled my sobs and prayed for the offering song to begin so I could resume the guttural sounds seeping up through my body. The service ended and Christy asked, “Do you know why you are crying?” I shook my head no and again buried my face in my hands. Christy kept handing me tissues, procured from some kind soul, while I continued to weep for a very long time. When I finally lifted my head, Jen’s husband, Eric, had a look of compassion that made me weak in the knees – this strong man who loves well.
Mark Tidd, one of the co-pastors at Highlands, says our floors are washed with the tears of the wounded. It is true. I used to preach for several megachurches and I often noticed that the words I said triggered tears in someone in the audience. Never did I see anyone other than a spouse move toward the person in pain. Everyone else looked a little embarrassed, as if they had seen a private moment they’d have preferred to miss. It always troubled me.
At Highlands someone dissolves in tears pretty much every Sunday. Many in our congregation have been wounded and rejected by the church. It is usually a worship song that triggers the weeping. We take in music at a visceral level, where the filters of the Prefrontal cortex cannot do their censoring. The song triggers a memory and the tears commence. Sometimes the tears associated with just one song have the power to heal an old, stubborn wound.
I cry at church because it is safe. I know a lot of you are puzzled by that. Church is the last place you’d feel safe enough to bare your soul. Not to be critical, but if you feel that way, you’re probably in the wrong church.
Cathy and I are in such a difficult place. No one understands, really. We have been together 44 years and we love each other dearly, but it is not a marriage any longer and space is needed to navigate these new and turbulent waters. There are so many losses for both of us, and for our children. As I have written many times, transitioning is never all right for families. This is an imperfect world and we play the hand we are dealt.
In such a world of suffering, a church full of friends who are not afraid to cry with you can be a soothing balm. Jesus went to the cross to show solidarity with us in our suffering. Why wouldn’t his body, the church, embody such suffering? The music of tears, while mournful, is redemptive. A good cry is cleansing. In the company of fellow-sufferers, a good cry is more than redemptive. It is salvific. Those hands that touched me, the arms that hugged me, the precious friend who shed the tears I was having difficulty releasing, that is what the blood of Jesus is about – bodily fluids, endemic to suffering, mixed in pain, redeemed through the sharing.
Jesus didn’t spill his blood so God would not fry me in the fires of hell. Jesus spilled his blood because genuine love suffers greatly. As he showed in the garden, true love suffers to the point of sweating drops of blood. Redemption happens in the spaces between us that are filled with these fluids of relationship. Blood, sweat and tears, the alchemy of love.
I am not interested in a church in which you cannot weep uncontrollably and be comforted by a multitude of hands. I am not interested in a church in which you cannot be loved just as you are, no demands, no apologies, no conditions. I want a church in which sweet tears wash the concrete floors, where prayer partners bury their heads on your own weak shoulders and weep with you. I want a church in which love prevails. Anything less is just another tribe, formed for its own safety, corrupted by its own lust, and terrified by its own unresolved wounds.
I will weep again in Highlands church. And Jesus will be there with flesh and blood arms and salty tears, assuring me to the ends of the earth that I am loved.
Make no mistake. The people pictured below who loved me that Sunday – these people and a plethora of others – they embody the love that makes this amazing world go round.
And so it goes…