"Your measure of prayer shall be until your tears come . . . or your measure of your work of labor . . . until your perspiration often comes, if your tears do not freely flow."
6th century Ireland and Scotland
During the workshop I attended at Iliff School of Theology this past weekend on Celtic Christianity with John Philip Newell, the participants were invited to take some solitary time outdoors about midway through the morning. When the meditation bell sounded, I walked out onto the lawn and quickly found a crabapple tree with a multitude of branches that seemed like outstretched arms. I went and stood in the midst of those arms, placing my own arms across two of the most accessible branches.
A stormy weather system was just then moving in, with a light breeze fingering through the leaves. A misting rain began to fill the air. Suddenly, I started to cry uncontrollably. I was not sad about anything, but simply felt a release of tears. In fact, it seemed that my own tears arose simply as a human expression of the rain. Even the traffic on the busy nearby street seemed quite water-like, sounding to me like the incessant roar of a river.
I stood under that tree for fifteen minutes, letting the tears flow copiously and with abandon. I didn't have many thoughts associated with those tears, except perhaps a brief recollection of the fact that a difficult semester of teaching had just ended and I felt a sudden release. Somehow it was as though I hadn't really been able to rest in Nature's embrace all semester - even though I'd spent quite a bit of time outdoors - and now, in the arms of that tree, I could finally surrender to that embrace.
When we went back indoors, I shared my experience with John Philip. Touched, he reminded me of the passage - quoted above - from the Rule of St. Columba, which talks about praying until the tears come. Interesting, he emphasized the fact that crying puts us in touch with the flow of the Divine, which was exactly how ninth-century Celtic theologian John Scotus Eriugena saw the divine life - as an endlessly flowing underground river. When I went back and read Columba's Rule after the retreat, I saw that the same flow can also be experienced in the sweat that arises during hard manual labor.
Yesterday I hiked up to Horsetooth Falls, which were burgeoning with all of our recent rain and snowmelt. Standing in an alcove behind the falls, I felt completely immersed in the sacred flow. I began to pray that I - and all of us - might remember to let go of our incessant worries and obsessions and allow ourselves to be carried onward in the flow of divine life that arises continually from the "river of living water" welling up eternally from within our innermost being :)
Photos: Oregon Holly-Grape, Ponderosa Pines and Horsetooth Falls, Horsetooth Mountain Park, CO, May 9, 2016; Saint Columba.
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.