going towards the innermost cave
My Dear One,
My grandparents lived on a farm and some of my best childhood memories still live there riding the tractor with my grandfather to check on the pigs or plant the corn, watching my dad work with a horse or fix a truck, and watching my grandmother work in her garden or cook Sunday dinner.
They lived in a house with a basement. The first floor is where people lived. It had the kitchen, the dining room, the living room, the bedrooms and the bathroom. The lower level had a den, an extra bedroom and bathroom, a mudroom, and a cellar storage room. This room, the cellar room, was where my grandmother kept all of her canned goods. Every year they would plant a large garden, full of vegetables - beans, peas, beets, potatoes, squash, okra, you name it. And much of that food got canned in the fall and stored in the cellar room.
My grandmother was the best cook in the world. I don’t offer this as opinion, I offer it as fact. She would cook huge meals to feed all of her kids and grandkids, I have enjoyed wonderful dishes from many excellent cooks on multiple continents. But the best cook I have ever known lived in a farmhouse in mid-Missouri. Anyone who didn’t get to enjoy a meal she made simply won’t know what I’m talking about … unless you had a grandmother of your own. Then maybe.
But there was a problem. Whenever Granny started cooking she would usually want something to be retrieved from the cellar and she would usually send one of the grandkids down to fetch it. Being the oldest, it seemed like I was asked most often. And I feared, with a great and terrible fear, going to the basement by myself. It was dark, empty, cold, and ominous. There was a place where you could get to a light switch without walking into the dark a little ways. And the cellar room was the darkest, dampest place of all. Walking into that room, lined with jars upon jars of food on shelves, reminded me of something from a horror film. I hated having to open the door and walk all the way in. I felt sure someone or something was going to shut the door behind me and lock me in. I would find what my grandmother needed, dash out of the room, and dart up the stairs running like hell.
The cellar was like a cave and it foreshadowed the experience I would have over and over again, in both physical and psychological ways, of avoiding the dark places where something might be lurking or I might become trapped.
This week in the Universal Transformative Journey, we are considering The Approach, going towards the innermost cave. Having made the decision to heed to call to transformation, having stepped across the threshold and facing many tests, we must necessarily approach the place that holds the dragons and the demons if we are to overcome them and attain the reward of transformation. The dragons and demons have the power to destroy us, and the may well do so. Victory over them is in no way a foregone conclusion. In fact, we likely will have to die in some fashion so that we might be resurrected and reborn into something new. And none of us wants to have to die.
This is why we avoid The Approach of the innermost cave. We don’t know what we will find there and it may devour us. But there really isn’t any turning back now. We’ve come too far. We’ve overcome too much already. The only way is forward, into the gaping mouth of the abyss.
Movie Example: Batman Begins
When Bruce Wayne was a child, he fell down an abandoned well on his family’s estate. In the darkness of the well, he is terrified when a horde of bats flies out and surrounds him. His friend, Rachel, runs to the house and Bruce’s father rappels down the well to rescue the shell-shocked boy. Bruce’s dad packs him to the house where he tells him “And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.”
Years later, after his parents’ murder and their beloved city is falling into chaos at the hands of the mob and a corrupt police force, Bruce seeks a way to strike fear in the hearts of those who are oppressing the people. He fastens back on the object that once struck fear into his own heart, the bat, taking on the persona of the Bat-man, and building his hideout underground in the very tunnels and caverns that housed the well he once fell into. Bruce enters the cave of his own childhood fears to become transformed where once again he is surrounded by bats but this time uses the experience to draw on his strengths rather than his fears.
You can watch an edited bit of the childhood scene and the scene where he returns to the cave below
Biblical Example: Jesus Approaches Jerusalem
As the gospels tell the story of Jesus’ ministry, it becomes clear at some point that Jesus sees his final destination as Jerusalem. This gives many of his followers great hope as they believe he will march into the city, reclaim kingship over Israel from the Romans, and rule an independent nation once again. But as Jesus draws nearer and nearer to Jerusalem, he becomes increasingly clear that he is drawing towards his own death.
Here’s one instance from Luke’s gospel:
51 When the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; 53 but they did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem …
57 As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59 To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:51-53, 57-62
Jesus could have turned around and went home. He could have given up his mission, refused the great ordeal that lay ahead, and forgot about entering the city. But to do so would be to abandon his own transformation which he knew, as painful as it would be, could hold the power to transform us all. He was willing to die if that’s what it took to help the rest of us live. On Palm Sunday he will march into town, being hailed by the crowds as if he were a king, knowing full well he was about to be executed as as if he were a criminal. He was about to show us what true “kingship” and salvation looks like, an image that continues to shock the world.
Most of us have something we are avoiding. There is something we are trying to find a way around, a way over, a way to not have to deal with. It might be a particularly hard conversation or a hard decision, a hard truth or a scary unknown, something that will be painful in some way to us and perhaps those we care about. If you are on a journey to a particular kind of transformation, there is certainly some fear that you will have to face in order to do so. If there were no cave with no dragons or demons therein then you would have done this a long time ago.
What is it that you know you must face you have been avoiding? What is it that you find so fearful about it? Where will you draw strength as you approach the mouth of this cave and cross a new threshold in your journey towards transformation by stepping inside?
You can turn back. It is not too late. But you also can’t simply go back to the way things were. You’ve come too far already. To go back now would be to resign to a life that wasn’t satisfactory. That’s why you heard the call to this journey in the first place. And so, if you are to attain what your heart desires, you must find the strength to step into the darkness and face whatever awaits you there.
Your Journey this week
It is not necessary to storm the cave and face the dragon all in one fell swoop. This week, let it be enough to simply step inside the cave, to feel yourself in that place and allow the darkness and damp to envelope you. Allow your eyes some time to adjust to being in this new place. Listen for sounds that will help orient you. Notice your steps so you can retrace them later on your way back out. Go slowly, deliberately, cautiously even if you must. But keep moving forward and trust that you do not go alone.
God walks with us as we walk onward …
following The Way,
P.S. - This week I am leading a pilgrimage to the Island of Iona in Scotland. As I’ve been reflecting on writing this WayPost, the parallels for me have been striking. Doing this has required me to push myself into an innermost cave I found I had been avoiding as well. But I clearly see the ways that avoiding entering this cave has sabotaged my own happiness in the past and could potentially do so again. As I will be traveling throughout this week, there will likely not be a WayPost next Sunday or, if there is, it will be about my journey to Iona. We will continue with the Universal Transformative Journey in two weeks with “The Ordeal - facing the dragon.” May this be a time of new realizations for you as well. Blessings...