The temperature drops quickly. Outside, the Belizean sun stung my fair skin and eyes, but here in the mouth of the cave, the air is cool, damp, less threatening. I’m floating backward on my inner tube, watching the blinding opening of the cave grow smaller. My legs and arms dangle, eyes widen to absorb the last bit of light. Just as I let out a sigh of relief, my inner tube turns once again and I’m facing the same direction as the river—into a darkness so thick I lose my depth perception.
Before I reach full-on panic, the guide tells us to turn on our headlamps. The instant I flip its switch, I see I’m floating through a maze of stalagmite skyscrapers, reaching up from the river bed, stalactites coming down like teeth. The gnarled rock reveals where the river has rushed and dripped, spread into uninhabited nooks. I feel as if I’ve trespassed into the underbelly of the earth, disoriented like Basil in The Great Mouse Detective when he awakes among the cogs and gears inside Big Ben. And to think there is more beyond the light of my headlamp.
I think about the scientists who study this rock, look at the layers of sediment, and have a sense of what all the earth has witnessed in millions of years. Surely God delights in our discovery of His world, how we dedicate time and resources to figure it out. Sometimes our exploration comes with more knowledge; other times it leads us to pose theories, truth yet to be refuted.
We continue to float down the slow river, seeing only what the lamps illuminate. Waterfalls, tiny bats hanging, small rapids, glittering walls. I’m not sure why, but I cover up my light and look ahead. I can’t see anything. Yet this hidden world remains whether I lay eyes on it or not, and it has for thousands of years.
I cover up my light and look ahead. I can’t see anything.
The darkness that fills my bedroom at home isn’t nearly so thick. Street light sneaks in between my blinds, and passing headlights beam across the room as I lie there with my head on the pillow. And then the questions come: Am I going in the right direction? Should I call my mom more often? Was I stealing the mic at the lunch table today? Do I need to dial back serving at church, or is that selfishness talking? Is it ok to cancel my plans again? Do I make people want more of Jesus? And later I’ll grasp for answers in an article, conversations with friends, a podcast. Tell me I’m doing this right.
But not here—this cave is too dark to speculate. How could I worry about heading for a rapid or straight into a boulder? I can’t see or walk or steer, much less guess what lies ahead. This dark, foreign place is not knowable—not to me, at least. So I do the only thing I can: float, and release my wandering thoughts into the darkness like balloons sailing for the heavens.
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It makes me want to cover my blinds with blackout curtains when I get home, and maybe stuff a towel in the gap under my door. If there’s no light coming in, could I remember that my world is just as mysterious as this cave? Could I no longer fret and figure? No longer assume the world is for me to understand and that my questions deserve to be answered? Such illusion, viewing His universe from a peephole. I hope God sees the heart behind my incessant striving and projections into the future, but I also hope I can learn to leave all the knowing to Him.
As the water sends my tube forward, I see a warm yellow glow in the distance, and then as I near the cave’s other opening, the bright tropics, colorful and exposed. I feel disappointment in leaving the dark behind. I pray that when light floods my vision on the other side, I’m not preoccupied with making sense of what’s before me—I want only to feel God’s current moving me forward.