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The Language of Tears: Their gift, mystery and meaning, by David Runcorn

09 November 2018

Anne Spalding learns about varieties of tears

THIS book stems from an invitation to Runcorn to “Tell me about your tears.” He reveals his own discoveries and invites readers to recognise the existence and richness of tears’ language. And this really is a language rather than a single message: I was fascinated to learn that, under a microscope, tears of loss, joy, bewilderment, and from onions (for example) are all different.

The chapters in the first half of the book cover a range of personal experience and other findings, and the rest of the (short) chapters are reflections on tears or weeping in the Bible. Helpfully, he finishes with appendices that provide ways to begin our own discoveries: “Tracing our relationship with tears”, “The names we call our tears”, and “Listening to our tears”. He also gives suggestions for further reading.

Runcorn makes the case for valuing tears as part of our conversation with ourselves, one another, and the world. This respect for tears is usual in many times and cultures, but not in our present one. Given that one current cultural expectation is that “grown men don’t cry,” it was good to find a chapter on “Men, women and tears”. All the same, Runcorn is not inviting us to cry at every opportunity: he recognises both that some people have no tears, and that tears can be used for manipulation.

What about God? Runcorn looks at the tears of Jesus and sees the love of God. He also gives attention to God’s emotional responses, and concludes that humans are invited to life that is full of vitality and colour. Overall, the biblical texts range from Hannah to Gospels, with plenty on the Psalms. I particularly valued the four reflections from Psalm 137 (“By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept”), on “Sitting”, “Remembering”, “Questioning”, and “Anger”.

As a whole, the book encourages us to accept our tears, and the tears of others, and to explore gently what they are saying. Usefully, he ends by reminding readers that it can be hard to listen to ourselves, and he advises finding a wise and supportive listener.

Dr Anne Spalding is a member of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis, and lives in Suffolk.


The Language of Tears: Their gift, mystery and meaning
David Runcorn
Canterbury Press £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

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