I Would Weep

When I was young I would weep through communion.

Prior to taking the Lord's Supper, which we did every Sunday, it was the tradition at my church to sing a reflective song, often one in a minor key, that made us dwell upon the sacrifice and suffering of Jesus.

Sometimes the song focused upon Jesus praying and weeping in the Garden of Gethsemane. Songs like "Tis Midnight And On Olive's Brow":
'Tis midnight, and on Olive's brow
The star is dimmed that lately shone;
'Tis midnight in the garden now,
The suff'ring Savior prays alone.

'Tis midnight, and for other's guilt
The Man of Sorrows weeps in blood;
Yet He that hath in anguish knelt
Is not forsaken by His God.

'Tis midnight, and from ether-plains
Is borne the song that angels know
Unheard by mortals are the strains
That sweetly soothe the Savior's woe.
Other songs focused upon the passion and crucifixion of Jesus. Songs like "O Sacred Head":
O sacred Head, now wounded,
with grief and shame weighed down,
now scornfully surrounded
with thorns, thine only crown:
how pale thou art with anguish,
with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish
which once was bright as morn!

What language shall I borrow
to thank thee, dearest friend,
for this thy dying sorrow,
thy pity without end?
O make me thine forever;
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
outlive my love for thee.
I would weep through these songs, the tears often carrying through the communion service. My heart would break each week during the Lord's Supper.

Theologically at this time my mind was governed by what we call penal substitutionary atonement. A part of what brought me to tears was the knowledge that Jesus had suffered for my sins. And each week I felt a deep sorrow for that.

But here's the strange thing. The peculiar alchemy that mixed this theology with my personality within that faith community didn't produce in me a toxic, guilt-ridden faith.

To this day I'm puzzled by this as I am very aware that this was not everyone's experience growing up in my faith tradition, or within conservative Christianity generally. For many others something in the mixture of personality, doctrine and faith community created a toxic and poisonous religious experience characterized by fear, shame and guilt. Along with a vision of a brooding and wrathful God.

But not so with me. For some reason, while I knew that Jesus was suffering for my sins, my sins were not my focal point. All I felt in those songs was how much Jesus loved me. Even though I was a mess and a sinner. Jesus was willing to do that for me. And if that were true, then how much did he love me? It was, by my calculation, a love beyond measure.

I didn't feel traumatized or abused or scared. I felt loved.

And that feeling has never really left me. No matter my failures. No matter my sins. No matter my brokenness. Jesus loves me.

And that has been the template and model for my own love, what my love aspires to. No matter your failures. No matter your sins. No matter your brokenness. Love. Unconditionally.

People often ask me, how did I get from A to Z? How did I grow up in a sectarian and fundamentalist faith tradition to get to where I am today, theologically speaking, all the while looking back upon the past with great love, affection and gratitude?

How'd that happen given the very different experiences of others?

Truthfully, I have no idea. I can't explain how it happened, but I can describe what happened. I heard the same message but drew a different conclusion. I wept over my sins, like everyone else, knew Jesus died for my sins, like everyone else, but I felt love rather than wrath. 

And if I'm honest, I miss that feeling.

Progressive Christians don't typically weep over their sins when they contemplate the cross or take the Lord's Supper.

But I used to.

And I still do from time to time. Maybe it's nostalgia. Maybe it's sentimentality. Maybe it's bad theology.

But I still weep for my sins.

And I still feel loved.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

19 thoughts on “I Would Weep”

  1. A quote from Frederick Buechner comes to mind. “You never know what may cause them. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean can do it, or a piece of music, or a face you’ve never seen before. A pair of somebody’s old shoes can do it…. You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention. They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.” (Beyond Words)

  2. Funny how I experience your particular story as having meaning for me and the entire universe!

  3. I don't necessarily weep for my sins. I certainly feel regret and remorse for the pain I have caused and, I suppose, sometimes the realization of how my actions have hurt people have caused me to weep.

    But more than anything, I weep for the great love bestowed upon me by God. And the hymn that, for me, says that best is "I come with joy" to the tune of "Land of Rest." There's something about coming before God, forgiven, loved and free with Christians far and near that pretty much sums up this thing we call Christianity.

    And no, I don't think that's bad theology.

  4. I'm always interested to hear these types of experiences, mostly because I rarely meet someone like you who grew up in a fundy-ish environment who is now more progressive and who feels affection for that world. The vast majority of ex-fundies I meet found their upbringing to range from somewhat scarring to psychologically and spiritually crippling. My theory is you had good parents who loved you and each other. In my deeply unscientific sample of "ex-fundies I've known", less than optimal parenting abounds.

  5. Noticing it was song/music that played a profound role in your HEALTHY "theological" experience/outcome. Even today in CC Churches, there is a theological disconnect between the music (lyrics emphasizing if not focusing ONLY on God's love) and "teaching" which doesn't hesitate to lay on the judgment/wrath trip. Do you recall "teaching" having contributed to your described outcome (tears and all)?

  6. Having been raised in a similar way I attribute my experience with penal substitution as being
    positive because of how my parents practised it. Guilt and shame just isn't something I remember from my childhood so I suppose that is why I am so cavalier about judgement.

  7. I think what helped in the teaching was that is was mainly about being a good person, in a moralizing Sunday School kind of way. We believed in hell but didn't talk a lot about people going there or our ourselves going there. The teaching was moralizing without any fear tactics.

  8. Emotionally, the doctrine penal substitution didn't affect (as I recount in the post). My problems with penal substitution, which emerged in college, were driven by theological objections (the view of God behind it).

    I wasn't traumatized by the doctrine. I found it intellectually untenable.

  9. I was responding more to your surprise that it didn't affect you in the same way as others you know and that was what I found similar about our experiences. You said in your post that you didn't have a negative emotional response from the doctrine of penal substitution but you go on to talk about missing the positive emotional response or at least that was my impression when you spoke about sorrow and weeping for our sins. Or maybe that is unrelated, but you seem to miss some of emotion that comes when we believe Jesus didn't just die to defeat an unseen enemy but for us personally.

    Much of the christus victor is all new to me, but I like it because it feels closer to what I practice then the message of penal substitution, if that makes any sense. I don't know if I necessarily feel penal substitution is intellectually untenable because I just don't know enough about either, but I feel the social consequences of that doctrine are enough for me to be wary that it is being misused. If it is possible to restore a balance between the two viewpoints that would be my preference though as I'm not convinced this is a binary question. As you said, there is something powerful about sorrow for our sins and knowing the wretchedness of our condition and I think it gives us confidence that Jesus actually loves us, and that our salvation isn't just a byproduct of other fight. I know you are busy but I'd be very curious to know what extremes christus victor can cause when imposed on a culture and what events prompted the penal substitution to take center stage when it did.

  10. strange to say what makes me cry every time: the sight of clydsdale horses and bagpipes. Lipizahner horses put thru their paces in an arena. Oh and when the dog dies in a movie.

  11. I recall taking communion from a weeping Brennan Manning like it is always happening.

  12. If you don't mind, could you tell more? Brennan Manning is one of my heroes.

  13. I think some of it comes from how the idea was presented to you, some of it may come from personality. I've always been prone to very introspective self-criticism, even if that wasn't something my church necessarily emphasized. I'm also fairly highly empathetic, which meant I felt particularly bad when I hurt others. Added to that, my mood disorder frequently made me literally out of control of my words and actions...yeah, a message of "God loves you unconditionally even though you are a mess/often cause damage/are acutely aware of self-centeredness at the root of even good actions" has always held a lot of appeal to me.

    It doesn't have to be attached to "penal substitution" though it often is - it even shows up in translations; in the NRSV Romans 5:8-9 is "But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God," even though the foot note notes that the "of God" at the end isn't actually in the Greek, it's just what they assume it *must* mean because penal substitution has become such a part of theological framework. (The NIV has it as "God's wrath" too, as do many modern translation. Oddly enough, this is one case where the old KJV is better than all of them)

  14. 'Progressive Christians don't typically weep over their sins when they contemplate the cross or take the Lord's Supper.'

    I think this may be a clue into the general impotence of Progressive Christianity.

  15. The late Geoffrey Grogan published a book a couple of years ago, 'The Faith Once Entrusted to the Saints?' (The question mark in the title is the author's not mine.) One of the chapters is titled 'The Retreat From Penal Substitution' and is well worth reading. Mr Grogan lectured for years at the London Bible College. He said penal substitution was believed in by all the reformers and the Puritans. This isn't meant as a rebuke Mr Beck. I am no theologian.

  16. Mr Vogel's comment is one of the most penetrating I have come across on Patheos. Generally speaking I have found the progressives lacking in any sense of their own sinfulness. They make flip remarks as if they are writing for a television audience. I might go so far as to use the term Sex in the City Theology.

  17. I would guess that many fewer people would be bothered by penal substitutionary atonement if it were sung rather than preached. Because "O Sacred Head" is, in my opinion, unquestionably beautiful.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

  18. This occurred around '95 at an organized talk by Manning at a side room in a gymnasium complex. After a wrenching analysis of our collective insistence upon ending the life of Christ, with the room in tears, gasps and sobs, he called for communion and looked into each eye with an armingly sad and tearful eye as he broke the bread, dipped it in wine and fed it to each one with words I wish I could remember.

Leave a Reply