A cave’s lifeline consists of cracks in its ceiling. Which, when you look at them, make you think about how cracks in ceilings are signs that ceilings are about to fall down upon you. Which is never a happy thought while you’re in a cave! Lifeline, then, seems like an ironic name for cracks in a cave’s ceiling. Still, our tour through the New Hope Cave in the Cherney Maribel County Park didn’t cause me any anxiety about an imminent cave-in. I wonder if larger caves creep me out more, because it feels more impossible that such enormous rooms could exist underground. Surely the vast expanse of the ceilings in those caves can’t hold up forever. Like the mine under the city of Negaunee, Michigan, which is settling or collapsing under one neighborhood. An iron-mining Chernobyl. Or maybe my fears are intensified in direct proportion to a cave’s depth. Wind Cave in Wyoming, which requires an elevator to reach its deepest floor, was a little nerve-racking. Claustrophobia, I think, makes me more anxious than anything; narrow rock corridors remind me how little it would take to bury me prematurely.
Caves Are Older Than Dirt
But I can’t say I’m particularly fearful of exploring caves. Caves are often old. Older than dirt, the saying goes. The story of New Hope Cave, if I understand it correctly, begins before the glaciers which, like amoebas, reached their icy arms a couple times into the cave. When the glaciers shrank, they left behind deep deposits of dirt and rocks in the cave that geologists have identified as having been imported from Canada. The New Hope Cave is older than all that dirt which the members of the Wisconsin Speleological Society (and volunteers) are scooping out of the cave with trowels and shovels conveyed by DIY hauling systems made of hubcaps and modified wheelbarrows. Apparently before the glaciers, the lifelines in the ceiling of the New Hope Cave had been allowing rainwater mixed with the chemicals in the limestone to form enough carbolic acid to devour a network of tunnels and caverns in the small bluffs along the West Twin River that include two other caves in the park. One of those caves is also open for tours; the other is underneath the playground equipment near the picnic shelter. So the cracked ceilings of the New Hope Cave have been holding up for tens of thousands of years.
The people of Israel believed that the Sky was a hard ceiling that God had set in place to hold back the waters of Chaos above the earth. The earth below was safer than any cave, since no water seeped through “the firmament” except what God allowed to pour down as rain though the windows he included in the firmament for that purpose. Which is the origin of this description of the Flood:
The windows of the heavens were opened. The rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights. (Genesis 7:11)
The Flood was one way the people of Israel believed God dealt with the human race when its blood had been mingled with that of “the sons of gods” and the result was a “wickedness” so great that
every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5).
New Hope for Humankind
Some of the people of Israel believed that a new hope was offered humankind when the firmament was torn apart at Jesus’ baptism, allowing the Holy Spirit of God to descend upon Jesus like a dove (Mark 1:10). Like the dove who returned to Noah with a “freshly plucked olive leaf” which told Noah that the waters of the Flood had subsided. At the time of Jesus, the people of Israel believed that the earth had long been benighted by the absence of the Spirit of the Lord. Some of them believed the cracked firmament above Jesus gave them new hope; some of them believed the cracked firmament above Jesus was a lifeline of a new existence under the dome of the Sky.
The Light of the World
Jesus was later identified as the light of the world. Which is like the LED rope lights strung through the New Hope Cave to help the WSS members and volunteers dig the dirt out of the cave. Our tour guide thought of himself and his colleagues as restoring the cave to its original state, which is like the work of Jesus in our lives. At least according to members of the Orthodox Christian tradition, who believe that
the Son of God became a human being, that human beings might become god.
(a paraphrase of Athanasius of Alexandria who championed the idea, which is called “theosis”)
The Sky Is Not Falling
We are sons and daughters of God, on account of our baptisms; like Jesus, we too have been visited by the Holy Spirit, a freshly plucked olive leaf in her beak. According to Jesus, because of the faith the Holy Spirit is creating in us, we will do the works that Jesus does and, in fact, will do greater works than his (John 14:12). Cracked though the ceiling of the cave may be, the Sky is, in fact, not falling. Especially as long as God’s people live according to their faith, instead of being driven to treachery, anxious paralysis, or bitterness because of fear.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1)