THE GEOGRAPHY SURROUNDING BETHLEHEM is filled with caves such as this one. Often the cave entrance is small or shallow, but then opens to a deep, high and wide interior, making caves excellent places to hunker down against bad weather or escape the notice of an enemy or predator. A cave is an earth-womb. Eastern Christians have thoughtfully preserved the earliest tradition that Jesus was born in a cave. The symbolism is spiritually significant.
What shall we present unto Thee, O Christ
For Thy coming to earth for us humankind?
Each of Thy creatures brings
Thee a thank-offering.
The angels; singing -
The heavens; a star -
The Wise Men; treasures -
The shepherds; devotion -
The earth; a cave -
The desert; a manger -
But we offer Thee the Virgin Mother.
O Eternal God, have mercy on us.
(Eastern Christian Christmas Sticherion morning/evening hymn)
Caves are the earliest home of human beings. Now in Christ, God is making himself at home with us in our most basic or elemental place. Caves are also burial places. The cave of Christ's birth is a foreshadowing of his Good Friday burial and his Easter morning Resurrection. A cave is an entrance to the underworld to which Christ descended, pulling humankind up and out of death and darkness to his new life and light.
Are Christians spiritually mature enough to allow for this symbolism: that caves are hidden shelters for lovers: that in Christ's birth, God is loving the world with the intensity of a lover!
But a cave is also an image of the unconscious human mind and heart. That is to say, the human mind is filled with secret chambers, niches, tunnels, disorienting twists and turns, dead ends that seem to entrap or corner us. We bump around in the enveloping darkness of a deep cave. Navigating that darkness is difficult and frightening hard work. We can imagine ourselves standing cautiously outside the cave pictured above and saying, "I'm not going in there." But only through this interior journey do we come to transformation - our growth in putting on the mind of Christ - which is the full development of my own God-gifted mind in freedom, authenticity, compassion, creativity and love.
And what might I come upon in my own inner cave?
- the realization of how dependent I am,
- the tricks I play to manage the day,
- the anxieties and fears that preoccupy and tire me,
- my defenses and habit of blaming,
- the masks I wear,
- the untreated resentments I carry still,
- the lies I tell myself,
- how I calculate and justify my choices,
- my dread of confronting my own inadequacy,
- my struggle to believe I am loved by God,
- the niggling question that I am not good enough...
- that God holds a grudge against me,
- why can't I just believe that God has allowed each part of my journey for my own good?
- What is buried deep down inside that I really want for myself?
There was a film years ago, Come to the Stable. I'd say, this Christmas, Come to the Cave - the cave in the icon shown here, bringing all of these concerns, questions and desires. And like Mary, after the shepherds departed, ponder the meaning and perhaps, what might I do next?
|pay attention to the inner cave|