The Baptism of our Tears
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“After our baptism, an even greater baptism – if I may make so bold as to put it that way – is the baptism provided by our tears.”
So wrote the 7th century monastic John Climacus.
He would write that this baptism cleanses us anew by the gift of compassion.
It is about those tears, and that compassion, that I wish to speak this week.
Compassion at times seems to be in short supply these days.
I awoke this morning to the story of high school students who had labeled water fountains in their school with “whites only” and “blacks only” signs, taking pictures of them and posting them on their social media pages. Earlier this week a mass shooting in Buffalo by a white supremacist left Black bodies lying dead in their neighborhood grocery store. In Cleveland two weeks ago, a high school athlete competed on the field of play with a swastika painted on his leg.
By contrast, the week before I spent three days in Montgomery, Ala., visiting the Peace Memorial and the Legacy Museum. While there, tears of compassion were shed as I bore witness to the pain and injustice of 400 years of race hate writ large across the landscape of U.S. history.
It is not lost on me that so much of white hate and racial animus originates inside my Christian faith. I am appalled at how easily some white Christians can let loose of their compassion and replace it with both a false sense of superiority that numbs them to the pain of others and a misplaced arrogance that empowers them to claim the favor of God.
They are clearly in need of that second baptism of which John Climacus speaks – that baptism of tears born of compassion and rising from the empty grave of the one who, like so many of America’s Black bodies, was hung to death in innocence by a mob who claimed a power that justice abhorred, and that God would resist.
Where is the Christianity that engenders compassion?
Where is the Christianity that issues forth tears in the face of unjust suffering?
Where is the Christianity that sees not equality with God something to be grasped, but humbles itself and sees all others as one’s equal?
Tears of compassion are a kind of baptism, washing away hate and arrogance, cleansing us of a desire to be proven better than.
Though at times in short supply, they are nonetheless much in need these days.
When Black bodies lie dead in a Buffalo-area grocery store, slain by a white supremacist;
When white children are taught to believe that restoring the symbols of white pride from a past we worked for generations to rid ourselves of;
When white parents shout at school officials because they think that teaching children about the enslaved tarnishes the purity of their white race;
When white legislators blow the dog-whistles of racial superiority, espouse the doctrine of replacement theory while decrying critical race theory;
Then a second baptism of tears borne of compassion for our suffering siblings is in order. May the gift of compassion be found anew in every trembling heart, and may the tears required in the face of untold and unjust suffering never cease to roll on this, our journey Into the Mystic.