by Peter Varney
from Signs of the Times No. 73 - April 2019
This book offers something for everyone, and especially those who need encouragement on their journey through life and those who support them. David Runcorn has taught at Trinity Bristol and St John’s Nottingham but has moved to a more open theological approach. In this review some of Runcorn’s own words are included; they address an eclectic range of situations and make helpful suggestions for working with them.
Runcorn’s approach to counselling and psychotherapy has at its heart a Jungian model which attempts to bring the conscious and unconscious to the light and help the individual person towards a more balanced whole. There is a careful explanation of the cognitive theory of emotions that the response to a situation involves mind, will and actions. This may be, he suggests, “how God feels in the fullness of his being”.
Tears are a language for the whole of life not just the grieving or serious bits. Runcorn identifies three kinds. Two have obvious health benefits: reflex, after smoke gets in our eyes and continuous, which keep our eyes lubricated. But a third kind, emotional tears, excrete the toxins which build up during stress and stimulate endorphins; after these tears we enter a calmer biological and emotional state. This leads to the comforting image in Psalm 56 of our tears collected in God’s flask.
Many chapters address difficult questions, such as the use of the imprecatory psalms with their cursing, judgment and revenge on God’s enemies. We are given thoughtful and helpful ways of considering them. Runcorn points out that they have been at the core of the Church’s daily prayer, they speak of our vulnerability and offer a way of joining with all humanity before God. Our vocabulary and emotional responses need to embrace the language of the psalms, including anger and lament. If not, we can become “too confined by the kind of world we inhabit”.
Tears flow from authentic places within us; they may be both a sign of loss of power or control and be a sign of entering something new, finding life after being close to losing it. This is explored in a helpful chapter focusing on grief and the transforming work of tears, particularly in relationship to mourning for someone close. The unshed tears do not go away, and feelings will not decompose if buried. They need expression so that the search for meaning and purpose in life can be re-engaged. In the new heaven and earth ‘we will discover that all is transformed’.
When Runcorn moves on to consider priestly ministry he finds it has been for him “a calling to tears”. He offers sensitive support to those who include hearing confessions in their ministry. There must be time and silence so that tears may flow; worship must allow space for those who cannot celebrate. He repeats that it is “in the tears of passion and lament that we meet God”.
The three appendices, and other suggestions throughout the book, suggest ways for us to follow up what is written by providing simple outlines for further personal exploration. The references include a website with images of tears originating from different causes. Readers who go there will see under a microscope both simplicity and beauty. This image points us, as the whole book does, to a way of discovering more about ourselves and deepening our spiritual life. Readers will want to ‘highly commend’ this book to others.
Peter Varney is a Quaker, a retired Anglican priest and psychotherapist, and lives in Norwich.