When I was in college I took a course in cave exploring. I had been on some commercial tours of famous large caves, but this was to be nothing at all like that. We were told to dress for cool and damp conditions, and to bring a canteen and some candy bars. We would be provided with a miner’s helmet with a light in front. To get to the cave we took some country roads outside of Spring Valley, Minnesota, parked by what looked like a normal pasture, and climbed the fence. We walked a short distance until the guide told us to stop. He then pointed to a little rabbit hole in the side of a hill that no one else had yet noticed and said, “Well, here we are– crawl in.” We thought he was joking, but he insisted; and so we all wormed our way in. We crawled on our bellies through wet dirt and clay for about ten feet, and then things gradually opened up. Soon, we were standing and walking, and off we were on an all day adventure under the earth. There was not the striking beauty of commercial caves with underground lakes and waterfalls, and huge stalactite and stalagmite formations. There was a little bit of water here and there, and a few interesting formations, but mostly just endless rock and dirt passageways going this way and that way, up and down. Sometimes we were crawling on our bellies through narrow passageways, and other times we would find ourselves in large underground rooms as big as a house. It was a fascinating day, with every turn opening up something new.
However, I do remember being a bit uneasy sometimes during the day. Every step and every turn took us farther away from that rabbit-hole entrance. I had then the ‘happy-go-lucky-why-worry-about-anything’ optimism of youth, and for the most part I was having the time of my life. But every once in a while it would occur to me that I was putting a great deal of faith in our guide, a young man that I knew nothing about. For all I knew, he was an irresponsible, pot-smoking teacher’s assistant, not worthy of anyone’s trust. There were a lot of young men like that at Mankato State in those days, and he looked like he could have been one of them. It would have been very easy to get lost in that underground maze. The passages we took would branch off one way and then the other, there were numerous forks in the path that the guide would lead us on, and we were gone for a very long time. Only later did it occur to me how much my life depended on the wisdom, knowledge, and common sense of our guide. He said he had been in that cave many times before and he knew it well, and we chose to believe him, and, believe in him. We had to, or it would have been foolish to enter in the first place and go in as far as we did.
In Isaiah 9:2 the prophet writes that the people walking in darkness had seen a great light. There is no darkness like the darkness of a cave. One time when we were resting, the guide had us turn off all of our helmet-lights and be completely still and quiet. The darkness, the silence, and the opportunity to think about where we were made me uncomfortable. I was happy to get the lights back on, hear everybody laughing and talking again, and then get back on the move. It was too dark, too quiet, and I was reminded of the fact that had no idea where I was or how to get out.
It was a dark time in Israel when Isaiah was called on to speak, and the people were lost and they did not know where they should turn or how they could get out of the mess they were in. Life can sometimes get that way. To the ancient Israelites, or to anyone in that situation, Isaiah says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned… There will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.” What was that light? Centuries later the promise of that light would be fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus would refer to himself as the light of the world, and then he would say to people “Come, and follow me.” ‘Follow me,’ he said.
Other than that need to follow Jesus, I can think of no other time in my adult life that I was so totally dependent on following another person as I was down in the depths of that cave. I have followed people in traffic, got separated, and then after some inconvenience gotten back together. I have followed the financial advice of others, sometimes good and sometimes bad, but the end result has never been life-threatening. I have been given advice by doctors, but again, fortunately, it has not ever been in life or death situations. But in that cave that day, my life depended on following that guide out of there. Every time one faced a fork in the underground pathways, the wrong choice could lead one farther away. The cave was big enough that one could wander around endlessly until, first of all, the helmet light would go out, and then, until one starved to death or fell or slid down some drop-off. Everything depended on being able to trust in and follow that guide.
“Follow me,” Jesus would say as he called his disciples. Three years later when the going was getting really tough and many others were deserting him, Jesus said to the twelve disciples, “Are you also going to turn away?” They said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” (continued...)
Isaiah 9:2 — The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
John 6:68 — Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Matthew 4:19a — “Come, follow me,” Jesus said…
O God, the source of eternal light: Shed forth your unending day upon us who watch for you, that our lips may praise you,
our lives may bless you, and our worship may give you glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
–Book of Common Prayer