“He attacked them viciously and slaughtered many of them. Then he went down and stayed in a cave in the rock of Etam.” Judges 15:8
I am thinking about caverns, the places we hide ourselves or retreat to today, and this example from the life of Samson intrigued me. When we’ve been through something traumatic or exhausting, a cavern seems like a good place to be. We often draw ourselves in, like a snail into its shell, treating our own bodies or homes as a sanctuary, a place to lick our wounds or just take some time to breathe and recover ourselves.
For some of us, this can take many years. I often see it written or hear it said that men need “cave time” after confrontation or difficulty, but I think the same is true of women too, and even children do this. But an interior place of silence where we feel we can protect ourselves and defend our ground, is a very useful life-tool to have, and sadly, few emotional outlets are deemed acceptable to men, so perhaps this is why this one is well-used by them in particular. But these caves we hole ourselves up in are meant to be temporary: places of respite and restoration.
Staying here for long periods of time can lead to an isolation and seclusion that may become unhealthy for us. I guess it really depends on why we are there, why we are drawn back into our shells. These places can become a breeding ground for self-pity or a foundation for a deeper relationship with the Lord. If we find ourselves sickened by the violence of the world (including our own, as perhaps Samson felt), then time set aside in solitude and silence can become a hermitage, a place of peace and prayer.
So as with anything in life, it is about recognising seasons and not outstaying them. I find this a hard truth to take in today, since my life for the last twenty years has been an enforced cave dwelling, with my chronic illness keeping me hidden away from the world. I have come to love the quiet and hate the busy-ness of the world, and don’t have the energy to partake in society in any case. I hope I have used some of my cave time well, becoming a contemplative creative. God has certainly used my setting aside to mould me better into my true self. Perhaps I shall remain a recluse. But if the seasons change, my health improves and I feel the light at the entrance intriguing or calling me, I might venture out into new pastures.
All timings are the Lord’s and he uses our times of society and of seclusion for good, if only they are given over to him. So even in the recesses of our caverns, in the dark and failing light, we can say, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
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