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The Topography of Tears

Sorrow Emotions Empathy

Source: THE TOPOGRAPHY OF TEARS by Rose-Lynn Fisher

Link to Source: Click here to view source

Contributed By: Illustration Exchange | Date Posted: 2014-05-29

Scripture: Psalms 56:8 ; Revelation 7:17

Author: Illustration Exchange


Ever wondered what your tears really look like? Rose-Lynn Fisher did. "One day I wondered if my tears of grief would look any different from my tears of happiness - and I set out to explore them up close."

"The Topography of Tears" she says, "is a study of 100 tears photographed through a standard light microscope. The project began in a period of personal change, loss, and copious tears. … Years later, this series comprises a wide range of my own and others’ tears, from elation to onions, as well as sorrow, frustration, rejection, resolution, laughing, yawning, birth and rebirth, and many more, each a tiny history."?

In photographing these various tears, she discovered that they are not unlike snowflakes--each one unique in its composition and design. Tears of joy looked nothing like tears of sorrow. And tears of elation looked nothing like the tears we shed when chopping an onion.

They can be explained, in part, by the chemistry of our tears:

Joseph Stromberg of the Smithsonian’s Collage of Arts and Sciences explained that there are three major types of tears: basal, reflex, and psychic (triggered by emotions). All tears contain organic substances including oils, antibodies, and enzymes and are suspended in salt water. Different types of tears have distinct molecules. Emotional tears have protein-based hormones including the neurotransmitter leucine enkephalin, which is a natural painkiller that is released when we are stressed. Plus, the tears seen under the microscope are crystallized salt and can lead to different shapes and forms. So even psychic tears with the same chemical composition can look very different. 

"The random compositions I find in magnified tears often evoke a sense of place," says Fisher, "like aerial views of emotional terrain."*

Although the empirical nature of tears is a chemistry of water, proteins, minerals, hormones, antibodies and enzymes, the topography of tears is a momentary landscape, transient as the fingerprint of someone in a dream. This series is like an ephemeral atlas ….

Tears are the medium of our most primal language in moments as unrelenting as death, as basic as hunger, and as complex as a rite of passage. They are the evidence of our inner life overflowing its boundaries, spilling over into consciousness. Wordless and spontaneous, they release us to the possibility of realignment, reunion, catharsis: shedding tears, shedding old skin. It’s as though each one of our tears carries a microcosm of the collective human experience, like one drop of an ocean.

*Follow the link to source above to view their "topography" to understand just how personal tears are and how unique they are to our life experience.


It seems our tears are indeed an atlas of our life experience--the hills and valleys, the quiet streams and the raging oceans. As varied and sundry as our tears may be, it is so comforting to know that God tracks every one of them. He sees them. He knows them. He feels them. Whether in joy or sorrow, we are never alone in our tears.

"You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book" (Psalm 56:8, NLT).

"For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Revelation 7:17, ESV).

No Laughing Matter

Emotions Guidance Motivation

Source: "Rare Disorder Makes N.J. Woman Fall Asleep When She Laughs," Published May 25, 2011,

Link to Source: Click here to view source

Contributed By: Illustration Exchange | Date Posted: 2011-05-28

Scripture: Proverbs 3:5

Author: Illustration Exchange


A headline this past week really caught my eye, “Rare Disorder Makes N.J. Woman Fall Asleep When She Laughs.”  I’ve heard of sleep walking, but never sleep laughing.  Turns out the New Jersey homemaker, Claire Scott, suffers from a rare condition called cataplexy--a sleep disorder wherein the sleep center in the brain is wired incorrectly, allowing the REM sleep cycle (the time of deep sleep when one’s muscles are effectively paralyzed) to inappropriately crossover into one’s state of consciousness.   It is, in other words, a sort of emotionally induced paralysis, the effects of which can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes.

The trigger mechanism can be any sudden surge of emotion—fear, anger, even happiness.  In Ms. Scott’s case, her trigger is laughter.  As many as 50 times a day, she suddenly finds herself in a puddle on the floor, slumped in her chair, or face down in her plate of food.  Sadly, it’s no laughing matter.  She has young children and cannot trust herself to care for them safely.


Emotions are beautiful things.  They make our lives rich and full.  But being driven by our emotions can leave us with a sort of spiritual paralysis which can effectively render us useless.  Fear can often stop us in our tracks. Yet the Lord commands us to “fear not.”  Grief can drop us to our knees, though often not in prayer but in despair.  Yet the Lord commands us to “rejoice always.”  Bitterness and resentment can short circuit our relationships.  Yet the Lord commands us to “let no root of bitterness” take hold in our hearts.  Even happiness, when it is our happiness alone that we seek, can render us limp in our service to others.  If we are to keep our spiritual legs under us so that we can live effectively for the Kingdom, we have to rise above our emotions and live by the higher standard of the Word of God.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding emotional impressions of the situation.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Decision Barometer

Decision Making Morality Emotions

Source: WHY BE GOOD by Byron Sherwin, p. 37

Link to Source: Click here to view source

Contributed By: Illustration Exchange | Date Posted: 2011-01-27

Scripture: John 14:6

Author: Byron Sherwin


Byron Sherwin, in his book WHY BE GOOD (p.37), has this to say about making moral decisions:

“There is a simplified summary of it in an often-quoted remark of Ernest Hemingway: ‘What I feel good after is probably moral.  What I don’t feel good after probably is not.'

"Yet feelings are not a reliable barometer for making moral decisions.  Feelings are fickle.  They change.  Love becomes hate, friends become enemies, hopes become disappointments.  To be sure, being good and feeling good are not necessarily the same thing.  Doing good usually demands discipline, effort, and sometimes sacrifice.”

[Byron Sherwin is a Jewish scholar and author in the Conservative Jewish Tradition.  His numerous works cover topics in theology, inter-religious dialogue, mysticism and Jewish ethics. He trained at the Jewish Theological Seminary, is a graduate of Columbia University, and has a Ph.D. in the History of Culture from the University of Chicago.]


Given the fact that people seem to have an almost limitless capacity for rationalizing their actions, feelings can't always be relied on as an accurate indicator of morality.  For that, we must turn to Jesus, who said, "I am the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6). 

Bring A Better Face

Attitude Christlikeness Perspective

Contributed By: Kevin Truett | Date Posted: 2019-10-17

Scripture: Ephesians 4:31 ; Romans 13:14

Author: Kevin Truett

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Prairie Schooners

Missions Compassion Servanthood

Contributed By: James Miller | Date Posted: 2018-10-06

Scripture: Matthew 25:29 ; Matthew 28:18

Author: James Miller

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You Are The "Fiber Optic Light" Of The World

Jesus' Love Compassion Holy Spirit

Contributed By: Dan Kelley | Date Posted: 2018-07-13

Scripture: John 8:12 ; John 15:5

Author: Dan Kelley

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I Know How You Feel!

Empathy Compassion Disappointment

Contributed By: Mitchell Dillon | Date Posted: 2018-04-25

Scripture: 2 Corinthians 1:4 ; 2 Corinthians 1:6

Author: Jeff Passan

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A Passion for Barney

Passion Influence Evangelism

Contributed By: Rob Tucker | Date Posted: 2018-02-20

Scripture: John 1:45 ; John 4:29

Author: Rob Tucker

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Look What You Made Me Do

Revenge Forgiveness Anger

Contributed By: Major Dalton | Date Posted: 2017-10-29

Scripture: Proverbs 19:11 ; Romans 12:17

Author: Major Dalton

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Does Your Church Really Care?

Compassion Church Health/Growth Outreach

Contributed By: Kory Ferree | Date Posted: 2017-07-31

Scripture: James 2:16 ; Mark 9:41

Author: Kory Ferree

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