“Father James,” asked the St. Juliana students upon my abrupt entry into the classroom, “are you a caveman?”
Stroking my chin to see if I had shaved that day, I responded, “Um, no, I think not.”
“Ah-ha,” some of the class responded with glee, “we were right!”
I scratched my head and looked at the half of the class that was mournful. “What, you thought I was a beast?”
Everyone laughed and proceeded to tell me what they meant by their inquiry. Was I of the camp that believed Jesus was born in a stable or that which believed he was born in a cave? Was I a "cave-man" or a "stable-man"? Jesus was most likely born in a cave. You can see the actual cave today in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. So, I am indeed a cave-man on that historical point.
But I'm also a cave-man on another point. What is the "cave," this is intermediary zone between earth and the netherworld? It's the spiritual life. When we pray to Jesus Christ—that is, when we are spiritual—we are in the cave. Prayer is an exercise of the soul. The soul connects with the divine. Yet we are still in our bodies on this earth. Thus when we pray we are in this intermediary zone. Just as the cave serves as shelter and can even be a home, prayer serves as our place of refuge, where we are sheltered and find true peace.
The Son of God, I believe, chose to be born in a cave, as opposed to a palace, because he wanted to send us a message: we reach our fullest potential when we pray. We experience Jesus in the cave, and that fills us with delight. It's like that 12th Century hymn by St. Bernard of Clairvaux:
Iesu dulcis memoria
dans vera cordis gaudia,
sed super mel et omnia,
ejus dulcis praesentia.
Nil canitur suavius,
nil auditur jucundius,
nil cogitatur dulcius
quam Jesus, Dei filius.
(Jesus, the very thought of thee
With sweetness fills the breast;
But sweeter far thy face to see,
And in thy presence rest.
No voice can sing, no heart can frame,
Nor can the memory find,
A sweeter sound than Jesus' Name
The Savior of Mankind.)
One of the effects of Christmas—what God's becoming man 2000 years ago did—is the re-configurement our humanity. We are meant to be in the cave. The people before Christ lived underground. They couldn't fully enjoy the light. We are not meant to live underground, without a true connection to the divine. We are also not meant to live totally above ground. People in society today who don't believe in God or don't practice their faith live only on the surface, never enjoying true shelter and peace.
We are meant for the cave. We are spiritual beings and we need to pray. So, please, today and every day of your life, pray to God. Have a "cave" where you can rest. It will make your work and play that much better. Be a caveman this Christmas and you will be truly alive.
Merry Christmas to you all and a blessed New Year.
Yours in Christ,