Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Mornings in the Red River Gorge are quiet, like the silence that comes just after a birth. In those first few moments when the shell-shocked baby's just come out, everyone involved is stunned speechless at the sacredness of this violent, profound mystery—something out of nothing, creatio ex nihilo, light out of the darkness...

So the thought entered my mind as I stood at the edge of the ravine, overlooking the valley still in night and the cliff-tops opposite slowly waking up in the light, a warm wash of sandstone, the color of a baby's stomach. It had been a moonless night, and being surrounded by trees had made the night thicker still, so I was glad when the sun approached, bringing back the blue sky we live our daily lives beneath.

This is what I had just arisen out of: a black night whose first part was filled with the noise of creation—cicadas droning their last desperate summer speech, the trees whining in the breeze, the rustle of debris as small, unknown animals settled in, the murmur of the campfire breathing its last. Then midnight came, and all was silent, as though some unknown presence was holding its breath.

They say that this is the evil hour, when the spirits can come forth and prowl a land they knew once while living. Indeed, you feel as though something is watching you from the edge of the campsite. It may only be a shy bobcat, pausing to observe the strange new beings on the cliff-top before making his way home to some pine-needle cushioned rock niche. But that feeling of unease remains, and some distant fear is awakened: fear of the darkness, and the void.

And so the pagans worshipped the sun, for they desperately believed that honoring it would assure the return of the light, their life—their salvation. I understood now a little of that desperation as I stood there on the ridge, exalting in the sunrise, joyously watching the valley emerging from the darkness as abruptly as a baby bursting forth from his mother’s womb, from the void. A passage came to mind then, startling in its newfound clarity:

“People living out their lives in the dark,
saw a huge light;
living in that dark, dark land of death,
they watched the sun come up.”

Isaiah’s foretelling suddenly jointed together and came alive for me with as much immediacy as the rock supporting my feet, the falcon’s sloping flight above the ridge, and the textured leaves of the newly-emerged trees beneath. I became aware then of the sacredness of the silence surrounding me, involving all that I could see. It seemed to murmur, with the freshly-stoked campfire, that bone-shivering prophecy: “Salvation is at hand!” And for once, in the growing warmth of the sun, I grasped the immensity of the situation, the profundity of the knowledge we take for granted: a prophecy that has come true.

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