Lava River Cave: Theological Reflections on Light

The Lord said to His Disciples: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father Who is in heaven. Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:14-19

Last month Subdeacon John Benza and I took 13 teenagers from our church to the Flagstaff Lava River Cave to do a little spelunking. The cave is not what one would expect. It’s entry is a hole in the ground with man made steps leading to the small entrance. Lava rocks are sharp and one has to concentrate on walking. The cave is about ¾ of a mile long and there is only one way in and out. The temperature inside the cave is close to 40 degrees. It is a great feeling as you pass from the heat of summer to winter cold in a few feet – like stepping into a walk-in refrigerator on a hot day. But, it is a ¾ mile long refrigerator with a rough ground and absolutely no light whatsoever. It can be intimidating and it is definitely not for the claustrophobic. The ceiling is so low in parts that you scramble on all fours and at other places so large it is like a banquet hall. If you have read or seen the Lord of the Rings you get the picture.

The hike was mostly spent trying to hide and scare each other and the accidental tourist. When we neared the middle and again at the end we thought it might be fun to turn off the flashlights. There was no light, we were alone in the cold dark lava cave. It was spine tingling dark. When the flashlights came back on they did not really satisfy. All I cared about was seeing the light of day again. Light meant safety, security, sanity.

The importance of light is a major theme in Scripture. The concept of light, enlighten, lamp and lampstand occurs in nearly 300 verses in scripture. Light is understood as something spiritual as well as physical. In the beginning of Genesis when God said, “Let there be light” and saw that the light was good it was not until 11 verses later, after he had made the sky and dry land and all vegetation only then did he make the sun. So, what was this light that He saw as good?

The scriptural testimony is that the New Jerusalem, the Kingdom to come, has no need of sun or moon to shine on it for the glory of God illumines it and the Lamb is its light! (Rev 21:23)

Yes, make no mistake light is Godly. Our scriptures tell us that God is the source of light. God is light. He dwells in light unapproachable. He covers Himself with light as with a garment. God enlightens everyone coming into the world. At Great Vespers (every Saturday night), as the sun is setting and the darkness is rising, we sing O Gladsome Light, in praise to Jesus. It is the oldest Christian song still being sung today outside of the Scripture. It was written in Greek (Φως Ιλαρόν) and being sung beginning in the late 3rd century. Here it is sounding good:

Abba Joseph, one of the great desert monks of the 3rd century was visited by Abba Lot who said, “Abba, as far as I am able I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can I purify my thoughts. What else can I do? Then the old man stood up and stretched out his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.”

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Filed under Scripture Rumination, Sundays, Feast Days, Other Days

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