Nathan Kirkpatrick: Dare to Weep!
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. – Philippians 3.10-11
Brother Roger of Taizé, in one of his most stirring reflections, tells of a young priest who had come to the Taizé community feeling overwhelmed by ministry. In his few years in the parish, he had seen too much suffering, witnessed too much pain in the life of his people, and he had tried to hold all of that pain at bay. He came heartbroken, wondering -- if this was what ministry was supposed to look like -- how he could continue on in it, if he could continue on at all. During his time on retreat, the priest met often with Brother Roger for spiritual direction, and it was in one of those sessions that Brother Roger, that gentle soul, said to him, “you must dare to weep!” For the priest, those words changed everything, and over the course of several retreats at Taizé, he found both the courage to cry and the strength to continue in ministry.
“You must dare to weep!” What an appropriate exhortation for clergy!
There was a long season in which clergy (and other helping professionals) were admonished to be stoic; we were taught that it was our ability to be with those in pain in a non-anxious and somewhat disengaged way that would be of comfort to them. We were told that the point of pastoral care was to embody (and by extension, restore) a sense of equilibrium to those whose lives that been rest asunder by bad decisions, loss, violence, betrayal and disease.
The problem with this, of course, is that our souls do not want to do this. Our souls quite naturally want to engage the souls of others. When we sit with a soul who has been broken open by the trials and tragedies of life, our souls want to respond by being equally vulnerable and open. When we encounter the deep pain and hurt of others, our inner being is stirred to show compassion and empathy. After all, we are made to carry one another’s burdens, to grieve one another’s losses, to care about one another deeply as fellow children of God, made in God’s image, restored according to God’s purposes. Models of pastoral care that want us to do otherwise can be soul-deadening for us as caregivers and soul-denying for those who come to us seeking care. Friends, we must dare to weep!
If Paul is right that the church is a fellowship in Christ’s sufferings, then this Holy Week – almost more than any other week – provides us a chance to do this, to join our tears to Christ’s. As we remember him weeping over the city that he loves but that rejects him in the end, we can weep for those who are still far from faith. As we think of him weeping as a woman anoints his feet (and his body for burial) out of love, we can weep at the ways that love and faith grow in God’s people. When we recite the stories of healings, we can plead with our tears that we will know healing here. As we keep watch with Christ in the Garden, our tears can co-mingle with his at the pain and cost of betrayal. As we stand beneath a cross and we hear him cry out, “it is finished,” we can be assured that our anguished cries are gathered up with his and held in the heart of God.
In this most holy week, this is an invitation to weep. Give yourself to the suffering of your people and weep in the face of it. Enter fully into their pain and weep for what you witness there. Weep for the heartaches of ministry, for they are great. But greater still is the hope that Easter is coming and when it does, the sufferings that we have joined to Christ’s are transformed and redeemed. Though our weeping may have lasted through the night, though our tears may have been our only food, joy can and does come with the dawn.
Nathan Kirkpatrick is managing director at Leadership Education at Duke Divinity.