Chapter 21: Repentance of Heart
“Humbly pray to the Lord for the spirit of repentance, and say with the Prophet: Feed me with the bread of tears and give me tears to drink in full measure.”
I love how these pre-modern religious authors exegete Scripture. In the above quote, Kempis is referencing Psalm 80:5, in which the Psalmist actually asks God to take away shame, sorrow and tears. But Kempis spins it into a prayer that asks God to bring shame, sorrow and tears in order to enter into the experience of repentance.
Personally, I hesitate to ask God for shame and sorrow, but I feel I can do tears. “What soap is for the body, tears are for the soul,” as a Jewish proverb goes. And I feel my soul could use a nice shower after a pretty stress-filled semester. I’ve never been really afraid to cry, but then again, I can’t remember the last time I really “bathed my soul” with tears.
Many Christian saints have been venerated for their holy tears, including Ignatius of Loyola. Perhaps it was partly their tears that helped them achieve sainthood, making their souls sparkly clean.
Scientific research has shown the health benefits of crying, as toxins and stress hormones have been found in tears.
Although we can only assume that the Jesus of the Gospels laughed, we can be certain that he cried.
Kempis’ spin on Psalm 80 might make modern exegetes uncomfortable, but he shows only respect to the traditions of Christianity and Judaism as he upholds the cleansing power of tears.
In the Midrash, after the Fall, God gave Adam and Eve a “priceless pearl” from heaven that would help alleviate the sorrow that they felt and were bound to feel again in their broken world. With it, they watered the earth for the first time. And they passed it on to their descendants as a precious inheritance. This “priceless pearl” from heaven is ours for the asking. So, in order to cleanse my soul and alleviate my sorrow, I join Kempis in his prayer to be fed with the bread of tears.