Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31 |Psalm 8 |Romans 5:1-5|John 16:12-15
The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.
This phrase, as Maggie noted earlier, is attributed to Joseph Campbell. It is about what the poet of proverbs speaks: wisdom. Campbell said it in other ways too: “It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life.” And, “Where you stumble, their lies your treasure.” [i] Campbell was talking about what it takes to get to the kind of life we really want—what our Judeo-Christian faith calls salvation, shalom—peace. It wasn’t so much encouragement as it was simply an observation about the ways we find wisdom, about the way life works. Living the examined life. Exploring that which remains hidden unless we take the journey. Dying to self.
turns out to be the source of
what you are looking for.
The thing in the cave
that was so dreaded
has become the center.
Throughout history many cultures and religions saw that the male in particular, left to himself, was a dangerous and even destructive element in society. Rather than naturally supporting the common good, the male often sought his own security and advancement. That’s why rites of passage, especially for men, came into being—as a way of moving beyond the ego to something larger, as a way of charting the path that all of us need to take, men and women, in order to find love and freedom.
Richard Rohr, reflecting on this spiritual pathway, notes that all of the larger-than-life people have one thing in common. They have all died before they died. And as a result they are not only large in life, they are larger than death too. At some point they were led to the edge of their private resources, and that breakdown, which surely felt like dying, led them into a larger life. They came out on the other side having fallen into love and freedom, having found God in God’s fullness.[ii]
Rohr, and Campbell before him, have drawn on the work of the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. Jung’s life work was about human development; the soul work that leads to wisdom. The exploration of the unknown within ourselves, the shadows, the entry into the darkness of the unconscious in order to make what is there available to our conscious selves. This is the central process of human growth and development, especially later in life. Letting our hidden self go strong to find the greatest treasures, the wisdom that enables us to bless the generations that follow. This is our last and greatest work.
Creative people have always withdrawn into caves or forests or wilderness in order to return reborn. It was true of St. Paul and St. Benedict, Gregory the Great, the Buddha, Muhammad and Dante. Sojourner Truth and Mother Teresa knew the dark and it became a source of strength for them and the people they blessed. Abe and Sarai were wandering Arameans before they were the patriarch and matriarch of our faith. Moses spent 40 years in wilderness before he discovered his true calling. Jesus was taken by the Spirit into the wilderness and then knew who he was and what he was to do.
It might be of interest to us to note that the Hebrew word for the “wilderness” where Jesus, Moses, and the Buddha spent time during critical periods of their lives is the same word that means “sanctuary.” This cave, this wilderness, this “nowhere,” Moses was told, is holy ground.[iii]
It is no accident that Trinity Sunday is all about wisdom. The fullness of God is the fullness of truth.
“On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads,” wisdom takes her stand. She was there from the very beginning, before time began, before the light shone in the darkness, the Creator’s daily delight, the Proverbs say.
The letter to the church in Rome charts out the path of wisdom. It begins, and this is important, with the ego, with the full acceptance of who we are, with the recognition of God’s joyful dance when it comes to the creation—that we are God’s delight. I like Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Romans text in The Message. It goes like this:
We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.
God’s unconditional love is our bedrock. If this work is done outside of love, it is a hopeless work. Of course, the only way to hold onto this is to let go and journey toward those dark corners. And so Romans continues with this language that echoes that search inward, into the cave, into the questions.
There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!
Spirituality is about letting go. Our culture, however has made it about taking in, attaining, performing, winning, and succeeding. There is great danger here. “True spirituality mirrors the paradox of life itself,” Rohr reminds us. “It trains us in both detachment and attachment:” letting go of what is ultimately empty so we can cling to what is real and lasting.
But this story, our story is so much stronger and more durable. We speak of relationship. That’s what the language of the Trinity is all about. The strength of three strands is not quickly broken. The dance of three persons is about the weaving of love that trains us in what is real and holds us in difficulty and ease, in uncertainty and joyful surprise. Beloved of God, the story of God is love. It is the dance that holds us and frees us.
If we don’t have love, we are nothing.
But we do have love. It is offered freely to us. And as we offer it freely to others we ourselves are free. Thanks be to God.
[i] See, for example, http://quoteinvestigator.com/2013/05/23/campbell-treasure/.
[ii] See Rohr’s daily meditation from May 22, 2016 “Initiation”: https://cac.org/2016-daily-meditations-overview/.
[iii] Bridges, William (2004-08-11). Transitions: Making Sense Of Life's Changes (p. 144). Da Capo Press. Kindle Edition.