“You yourself have kept track of my misery. Put my tears into your bottle – aren’t they on your scroll already?”
Psalm 56:8 (Common English Bible)
Many of us have a bucket list – a list of experiences we would cherish before death. They require no explanation to others, no defense. They are deeply personal. Further, an explanation may reduce the depth, color, and richness of personal meaning. Most people recognize that what is experienced deeply can rarely be expressed with words. Words are useful for the communication of thought. They are less useful for conveying deeply held emotions, feelings, and convictions. A strong writer can approach this depth of meaning better than most. But always, words have a reducing effect. Permit me to simply state that high on my bucket list are three experiences I would value: a cameo appearance in a stage production of the musical RENT, a balloon handler in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and sharing a cappuccino with David Hyde Pierce.
Some will remember that David Hyde Pierce played the character of Niles Crane on the popular television series, Frasier. On three occasions I have enjoyed David Hyde Pierce on a Broadway stage: Spamalot, Curtains, and Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. If I were to have an occasion to have a private conversation with Pierce over coffee my first question to him would be, “What makes you cry?” An answer to that question often points to deeply held convictions; points to those values, and struggles, and principles that grip our hearts. Again, words are limiting. But they can point another in the right direction. An answer to the question, “What makes you cry?” provides a window into the depths of another’s soul.
Naturally, tears come in a rich variety. A powerful conviction of truth draws tears to my eyes every time. I simply cannot read in Luke’s Gospel the story of Simeon taking the infant Jesus in his arms without my chest becoming heavy and tears forming in my eyes. Here, Simeon recognizes this child as God’s salvation. This is a story that reaches beyond the descriptive; it is evocative. In faith, Simeon sees God’s decisive hand in the unfolding drama of human history. Grief is another variety of tears. Old Testament teacher, Walter Brueggemann helps us with understanding this passage from the Psalms. Here is a confidence that God has kept, treasured, and preserved “my tears”; that is, all the pain and suffering that the psalmist has experienced. “God is the great rememberer who treasures pain so that the psalmist is free to move beyond that pain.”[i]
There is an ancient Jewish practice that provides care in times of misery and grief. A small bottle is provided to collect the tears of anguish and loss. The top of the bottle has a small hole in it that would allow those tears to evaporate over time. When the bottle is completely dry, the time for grieving is over. The Psalmist wants us to know that God has a bottle with our name on it. When tears of grief flow, God collects them in that bottle. This is how seriously God takes our grief; how God honors and shares in our loss. But there is a small hole in the top of that bottle. Over time the tears will evaporate. When the bottle is dry, and our eyes are clear, we see that God remains. And God redirects our eyes to tomorrow.
[i]Walter Brueggemann, William H. Bellinger, Jr., Psalms: New Cambridge Bible Commentary. (New York, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018) 254.