It has been a long time since I was in a cave. At one stage, quite a while ago, I would not go past a sign for a cave without checking it out. In Australia, there were places like Yarrongabilly, near Tumut. Then, in the United States, I found plenty of opportunities to explore underground, from the enormously tedious Carlsbad Caverns to the delicate beauty of . (Why do so many caves have strange names?) However, I have not been down a cave for decades.
I was reminded of this recently while reading the book chosen for our Lenten Studies this year, Learning to Walk in the Dark, by Barbara Brown Taylor. This work relates the author’s exploration as an adult of her childhood fear of the dark. In so many ways in our culture and tradition, dark is associated with what is bad or to be feared. Taylor sought out darkness in various forms in order to counteract her fears and to discover good and positive aspects of the darkness.
In one chapter, she relates how she went with some experienced cavers beyond the locked door of a show cave, into its wild interior. For her, this was not a time of fear, but of revelation. At one point, as she sat in the absolute darkness and quietness of the cave, she heard two sounds. Later she was told that one was the sound of her nervous system, the other of her circulation – of her head and her heart, her thoughts and her feelings, if you like. This was a revelation about herself. At another point, she discovered in the light of her torch a delicate array of sparkling jewels. When she took the stone back to the surface, it turned out to be, in bright light, just like a bit of grey gravel on the road. “While I was looking for something large, bright, and unmistakably holy,” she writes, “God slips something small, dark, and apparently negligible in my pocket. How many other treasures have I walked right by because they did not meet my standards?” Her second revelation was about beauty in the world around her. Her third revelation was about life. This month, we are looking forward to Easter, which at Scots we celebrate with an ancient tradition of light. Yet, Barbara Brown Taylor noted, the resurrection occurred in the dark, in a tomb that was a cave in the rock, in complete silence and in absolute darkness, like that in which she sat. “Life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.”
All this makes me wonder, What caves are you in at the moment? We are travelling through Lent, a period of self-reflection, looking forward to the joyous celebration of the resurrection at Easter. All this should be predictable and good. Yet, often in our lives, we find ourselves in a place of darkness, of silence, of fear … in a cave. Perhaps some part of our life is going just fine, while some other part is a cave. What caves are you in at the moment? Is it the sort of place from which you need to be led out? Or do you need to go further in? What about those three revelations that Barbara Brown Taylor wrote of? In the darkness, the silence, perhaps the fear, what might be revealed about yourself, about your mind and heart? Like the ordinary stone, what beauty lies before you, overlooked because it does not match your expectations of what is beautiful?
And what new life is starting in that cave? This last is the promise and hope of Easter – that even in the darkness, silence and fear, or, rather, especially in the darkness, the silence and fear, God works to bring new life forth for us.
Rev Dr Peter Trudinger
Picture by CC BY-SA 3.0: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yarrangobilly_Caves#/media/File:YarrangobillyCaves.jpg
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