In the movie, The Mission, there is a hauntingly beautiful melody called “Gabriel’s Oboe” that swims in the storm of emotions that fills the film’s storyline. It’s a song that captures the poignancy of the heart-breaking plot mixed with the breathtaking scenery, as well as the triumph and tragedy of all that transpires. It’s a song that fills me with emotion, partly because of the themes in the movie, but much more because of its ties to a personal event.
“Gabriel’s Oboe” is the song my sister-in-law walked down the aisle to at her wedding, and when I hear that plaintive oboe, my mind is filled with the beauty of that warm June morning when we sat amongst a grove of walnut trees as witnesses to a couple committing to one another for as long as they both shall live. I am taken back to the moment just before my two oldest girls, four and nearly two years old at the time, walked through the grass in their white flower girl dresses. Rehearsal had been a disaster, and I assumed there was no way they would make it to the finish line that afternoon. The morning of the ceremony, the younger of the two had decided that she wanted nothing to do with her petal-filled basket, but seconds before her big moment she made it clear that she wasn’t going to share with her sister nor would she go down the aisle without it.
As I sprinted to grab her basket, I wondered why. “Why am I doing this? She’s just going to cry and stay at the back with me.” But then, moments later, as “Gabriel’s Oboe” filled our ears, my little girls flawlessly did their flower girl thing. I can still see them, dressed in white, cautiously walking away from me. It was such a joy-filled moment, and yet I was filled with a sorrow of sorts. As much as I had wanted them to walk down that aisle, I now desperately wanted them to come back. The emotion of those brief seconds, which even now wants to well up in tears, is complicated.
We typically place tears in one of two categories – they are either tears of joy or tears of sadness. There are funeral tears or wedding tears. There are the tears at a soldier’s death or tears at a soldier’s return. There are tears on Good Friday or tears on Easter. But such categories are much too simplistic for the intricacies of the human experience. There are certainly times when they fit, but so often the boxes labeled “joy” or “sadness” can’t hold all that we are feeling.
When tears fill my eyes at the sound of “Gabriel’s Oboe,” they are not simply tears of sorrow or tears of joy, but they are tears in response to an inexplicable beauty. There was such joy that day – the joining of two lives into one, the light of the sun filtering through the trees, and the sight of children spreading petals in the grass. And there was sadness as well – the giving away of a daughter and son, the absence of those whose death kept them from the joy of it all, and, for me, the thought that one day those little girls would walk down a petal strewn aisle holding my arm. It was all so heartbreakingly beautiful.
Crying is a mysterious thing. Why else have nearly all of us choked out the words, “I don’t know why I’m crying”? I’ve seen people weeping in the depths of grief suddenly smile and laugh as the same tears fall. I’ve seen laughter morph into deep sorrow. And I’ve watched my wife laugh until tears rolled down her cheeks. Tears come not only because of joy or sorrow or laughter or any one emotion, but often because of the all-encompassing, inexpressible beauty of a moment.
It’s the beauty seen in a movie when all the pieces come together and a character’s dreams are crushed or come true. It’s the beauty of a song sung as we sit in the audience and watch a holy moment unfold. It’s the final sentence of the novel when we wish for just one more chapter with the friends we have made in the pages read. It’s a song coming from our car stereo as we drive down a lonely road. It’s a long forgotten photograph that falls from the pages of a book. It’s the sun rising over the Atlantic as children dance in the sand. It’s the celebration of a life well lived and of resurrection hope at the side of a loved one we wish was not gone. It’s a glimpse past the veil that separates us from eternity that catches sight of the promise to come. It’s the beauty of sorrow and pain and joy and happiness and everything else rolled into one, and tears seem to be the one thing that can explain the cry of our souls.
Sometimes tears alone express all that is felt when God’s children behold the beauty of the gospel – the sorrow of the cross and the triumph of the resurrection and the mystery of faith. There are those times when all of the strands of light found in the work of Christ gather into a blinding brightness, and we become overwhelmed by the beauty of it all. We stand in the light of the sun or the moon and wonder at the breathtaking love of the Creator. We sing of the love of God, rich and pure, or of heaven’s peace and perfect justice kissing this guilty world in love, and we see the brilliance of God’s wonderful salvation. It’s the potent mixture of, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” and “He is not here, for he has risen!” It’s the beauty of Christmas Eve candlelight and Good Friday darkness and Easter sunrises. It’s all there, swirling around with that great cloud of witnesses, when we partake of the bread and the cup in the midst of brothers and sisters who hold the gospel dear, and the beauty of it all spills over in tears. Not just because of joy or sadness or any one thing, but because there is an unspeakable beauty to life and death and to the life and death of Jesus – a beauty that brings tears.