AT THE OAK OF TEARS, A SPARROW DOES COMEREAD: Genesis 35:1-15
“When Jacob arrived at the village of Luz in the land of Canaan, he built an altar and named the place Bethel (or House of God) for it was in this place that God had appeared to him while he was fleeing from the anger of his brother Esau. Soon after, Deborah, who had been his mother Rebekah’s nurse, died and was buried near Bethel, under an oak tree which they named the Oak of Tears.“ – Genesis 35:6-8
Tucked within the story of Jacob, the father of the nation of Israel, is this momentary yet quite touching aside. The woman who had cared for Jacob in his infancy and then cared for Jacob’s mother in her frailty dies. You ave the sense that Jacob, now a middle-aged man, had much tenderness in his heart for this servant woman named Deborah, for when she died, he buried her neath a sprawling oak tree and named that tree, the Oak of Tears. And I imagine that Jacob returned to that Oak of Tears, now and then, in the years that followed.
We buried Brother Jerome awhile back and we buried him under a sprawling, oak tree. In those moments, I once more observed once more that devout souls in Christ – even devout, old monks – sometimes shed tears. And contrary to what some well-meaning comforters might sometimes say, shedding tears is not a sign of a lack of faith in the resurrection, but rather … an expression of a certain quality of divine and human love that ministers to the pain of loss. And besides … if Jesus and Mary and Peter and Paul can all have their times of weeping, who am I and who are we to think that we are to be above that.
Now and then, I visit my own Oak of Tears. As one grows older, you tend to have made many such slow walks to that old Oak. Not long ago, I paid a visit to my own Oak of Tears. There I revisited some memories, whispered a few words of prayer, and even carried on a conversation with a loved one who has now go on. There a lump came to my throat, then an ache to my heart, then a few tears to my eyes, and finally a misty sadness upon my soul. There the Lord and I lingered for awhile … and I sensed that the Lord wept with me beneath that Oak of Tears. Yes, we lingered there for awhile. … But then … a tiny sparrow flew down from the oak tree and settled on the grave stone. The sparrow coked her head and looked at me. Then after a time, this angelic sparrow, began to sing me a song, I took it to be a resurrection song … walking me through the last of the mistiness into the place of good memories, fair hopes, and steadying faith. And when the sparrow finally chose to depart, I too chose to depart, leaving behind my tears of love at this old Oak, until such time that my soul feels need to return, once more.
The fullness of God is both in the shade of the Oak of Tears and in the song of a sensitive sparrow who somehow understands. Love knows both joy and sorrow …if it is authentic love …
So be not afraid, my Loved Ones, when tears do come upon you … sometimes they are expressions of the loving heart of God who understands the ways of old Oaks.
Brother Anthony of the Cross