When I saw the billboard advertising Natural Bridge Caverns, I immediately decided I must take the boys, whether they wanted to go or not. I remember visiting caverns as a child, and, while I am sure I was partially terrified the whole time, the visit left a lasting impression on me. Thus, in the vein of childhood nostalgia and the desire to expose my kiddos to science and nature, we trekked on over to this tourist mecca.
After having said “No” a trillion times to my boys’ desperate needs for Dippin’ Dots, fossils sure to collect dust on shelves and overpriced candy and crap, we began our descent into the cave. The noises began to fade as we went further into the caverns.
While I am not jealous of the first spelunkers shoulder-tight 120 foot entryway into the cavern system, I do envy them the moment they came out of the cramped couple of feet into cathedral-like rooms with gigantic formations, truly a castle under the ground.
I am not one for public singing, as I am verifiably tone deaf, but walking through the spacious, intricately decorated rooms of the cavern, I found myself quietly singing a favorite hymn. It was just so incredibly peaceful and beautiful to be walking through a castle we normally can’t see.
An hour later, after walking through nearly a mile of caverns, we re-emerged into the daylight. Met by the suffocating Texas humidity, we walked back to the pavilion on a sidewalk. The whole way back, I kept thinking about one would never know there was a whole beautiful world underground. One could easily walk on the sidewalk, as one does every other sidewalk, distracted by the reality all around, not realizing that were entire cathedrals beneath one’s feet.
Since our visit to the caverns, I have been thinking often about the castles I cannot see, the spiritual realm I am often completely oblivious to due to my obsession with the world right before my eyes. There is so much more than we can see, so much more than our senses can measure. And there is life and hope and power pulsing in that spiritual realm which is incredibly real though it is not often tangible.
In the wake of the shootings in Charleston as well as the daily disappointments and defeats we all experience, I am longing to have eyes to see beyond the tangible reality before us to the castles we cannot see.
One of my favorite stories from the Old Testament comes from 2 Kings 6. In this chapter, Elisha, a prophet of God, is being strongly and violently pursued by a king of Aram who is enraged that God keeps telling the prophet of his military schemes before they happen, thus foiling his plans. Elisha’s servant, who I most assuredly relate to most in the story, is freaking out as he sees the horses and the chariots of the enemy nation closing in on them. “Now when the attendant of the man of God had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, ‘Alas, my master! What shall we do?’
Elisha, in his steady manner, replies, “Do not fear for those who are with are more than those who are with them. The story continues, “Then Elisha prayed and said, ‘O Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.’ And the Lord opened the servants’ eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
Chariots defending God’s children, hidden hope and fortresses in the midst of weighty pain, there is so much more than our eyes can see.
When he was on the earth, Jesus, who knew his followers and friends better than they knew themselves, gave them premature promises, promises they did not comprehend or quite need yet. As he was preparing the hearts of his closest companions for his imminent and excruciating death and all that would follow on its heals, Jesus said, “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In my Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would not have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may also be (John 14:1-3).”
I am sure that his disciples were a little befuddled by these statements. Many dwelling places? But they had homes. Trouble? But all seemed hopeful.
Yet after his death, resurrection and return, facing the daunting task of being God’s messengers in a world that did not welcome what they had say, missing their Beloved Rabi who was now far off, these promises became power.
He is preparing castles, castles we cannot see, for His children. The nine souls who departed in His name from an AME church in Charleston are dwelling in those castles, hand-made for them uniquely. But even moreso, they have been received again to His chest, welcomed by the tight embrace of the everlasting arms.
Oh, Lord, open our eyes to your realities all around us as we walk through this middle ground. Lord, make the castles you are preparing come to the forefront of our minds as we struggle and fail and falter through the valleys of life on this broken sphere. Most of all, Lord, remind us that there is a tight, eternal embrace awaiting us if we only press on yet a little longer.
Thank you, Father, for the castles we cannot see.