Several years back it was my "scary joy and delight" to be doing a bit of semi-dangerous crawling into a lava cave in central Oregon just south of Bend. I was the first one at the opening of that cave that morning. The park rangers were testing out the lights that one got to begin the journey "to the center of the earth."
Well, truth be told, it wasn't quite that far, nor quite that dramatic. lol However, when I had been hiking into this black hole, and turned around to see if I could still see the light from the cave's entrance, no light, but the one I was carrying was seen. Briefly (as in every so briefly...) I turned the lamp out for a few seconds, and it was a black as black as black could be...just like the legit picture above.
As I kept walking down into the cave, with the promise that a ranger-led group wAs right behind me (though I heard absolutely nothing behind me...only my feet crunching on rock and sand), I had to begin to stoop, and finally was crawling for a bit on hands and knees, when "some measure of reason" overtook me and I turned around. Dare I say, the silence was almost deafening.
Crawling back to a place where I could at least sit, I, one more time turned off the lamp...with my fingers not leaving the "on" button. To this day, on this particular day on the Christian calendar, I remember that spelunking cave hike and crawl (over a mile is what a ranger later told me I had gone...)...and.......one other time of sitting in total darkness (well, almost, as city lights softly streamed through extraordinary stained glass windows...but the impact of the evening was also deafening to my soul).
At the urging of my good friend, Brian McClaren, some friends and I were in Nashville for a conference of emerging church leaders. It remains one of the finer conferences I will have attended in my life. It was there that a meaningful friendship even began with Phyllis Tickle, who slipped through the "thin veil" this past year.
One of the evenings we were invited to participate in a variety of worship experiences. My friends and I chose the one that was being led by a vibrant group from Ireland, and I think (not fully certain...) that it was called something like a Black Mass commemorating Good Friday...which most of us lived through yesterday.
When we entered this old, beautiful downtown Nashville church, the only light in the sanctuary (around 8pm...), the only light inside was hundreds of candles burning. The glow? Stunning...........
A variety of instruments were played across the minutes of the experience. Words from the Bible were read. Some poems and thoughts from ages past and current where offered from known and unknown authors. And there were moments of time, some long, some short, to simply allow the silence of the moment to continue to seep down into the uniqueness of each soul there.
Prominent on the stage was a large modernistic painting of the head of Christ...beautiful, searing, raw...reminding us of the price that had been, and continues to be paid to this moment. We were "warned" that this would be a very long service. What kept taking place did not make it seem long, as when a concluding action and word was given around 11pm, no one moved...not one of the 700+ people.
It was as totally dark as it could be. There was the faint silence of the night outside, and not one sound inside.......except for some very soft crying.
As the songs and words were shared, figures all dressed in black, quietly, almost with a dancer's ease, began to move around the sanctuary. Ever so slowly, I began to see that one by one by one...........s l o w l y the candles, at random, were being snuffed out.
Then, quietly shocking, a dark figure went up to the Christ picture and put a huge black swath of paint across the face. Oh, whoa.......! What's that all about?!?
But as the hours ticked on, music offered, words shared, this snuffing out the candles and painting over the face of Christ continued until...........and here we were all transfixed in the moment...
...there was only one space on the painting that had not been painted over. There was only one lone candle burning at the base of that painting. The last word was spoken. The candled was blown out. The music stopped mid chord....................
...........nothing but darkness prevailed.
We all felt suspended in time. We, from the last words spoken, were invited to sit there as long as necessary, even to the dawn of a new day, to do whatever personal, soulish work we needed to do. We were encouraged nOt to leave until we each had heard the whisper from the Spirit that, for that moment, we knew that we were clean, whole, forgiven, and ready to live fully into why we were still alive in that next day, and all the next days of our lives.
They also said that their whole team would be waiting in the narthex of the church if someone needed some additional care in any way. The silence had become pregnant with possibility....................
I glanced at my watch, and was quietly shocked to see that it was 11pm, already. I finally departed some time after 1:30am. However, no one moved, or left, that sanctuary until well after midnight.
The next day I saw one of the couples I'd met from that creative-to-the-max Irish group, and asked them how long they had stayed. He said that over a dozen people had stayed until after sunrise, and their team, as promised, had stayed to quietly support them.
I asked them if they were tired at all, and he said, in his wonderful Irish accent, "We do like our sleep...but last night was a time when our own souls were so alive, that we believe we were almost more blessed than anyone there." Each giving me a hug, I said, "I join you in a soul being fully alive. Thank you for one of the more meaning-filled sacred experiences of my life."
And so, yesterday, during Good Friday 2016, my mind remembered that moment from years ago in Nashville. And that, one more time, took me back to reflecting on that moment when Jesus' limp and battered body was placed in a rock cave of a tomb, and a stone was rolled across the entrance, and soldiers were set guard, by fear-filled government leaders, so that the body of this reckless teacher of truth would not be stolen by any of his avid, rabid followers (who seemed to have almost disappeared on him...........), would not be stolen.
Ever wonder how really dark it was in that tomb?
Was the stillness, again, deafening?
Was nothing there but a dead body?
In Nashville...in a lava cave south of Bend, Oregon...and even in the dark of last night...I've remembered a Friday that doesn't seem to have been all that good.
Just curious (and no one has to respond.......), what were you thinking about last night from the depths of your own soul.............?
What might you and I dare to think about any day, any hour, about what is taking place in the deepest parts of who we are in this current moment?