We are in a cave.
We are men on retreat. Our leader has brought us to this place deep underground. He has made one simple request. We are to turn off our lights. We do so and discover that there is no darkness like the darkness beneath the earth.
As is often the case, I feel many questions moving inside of me. Should I reach out blindly and touch the brother nearest me? Should I be still? Should I continue to sit in silence? Should I give voice to the song rising up from my belly?
So I sit in silence, listening to the noise of my inner turmoil and confusion.
But the song remains.
So I begin to sing.
“Amazing grace . . .”
The melody fills the tiny room of stone. The words seem to rise up and hang in the blackness of the ceiling.
The song ends.
The silence returns.
I wonder if I did right.
A brother begins to weep. His sobs fill the space around us where the song once was.
Later he tells us why, sharing some struggles and giving credit to the song for releasing him. His story helps the rest of us to share. Somehow, in this cave of confusion, grace has broken through.
When we crawl back out into the light, the muddy earth drying on our skin, we are changed men.
The man who led us into and out of that cave long ago is now my spiritual director. Once a month we revisit that “cave” and sit together within its sacred confines. He listens as I describe the struggle to be a man of integrity in this day and age. He creates a space for me to continue the journey of being honest and vulnerable with others, especially other men.
He encourages me to continue to resist the temptation to fill the void inside with the temporal. He challenges me to respect those around me, especially women. He helps me reflect on whether what I do is out of ego or love. He gives me leave to sit with the questions, to hold them and myself with gentleness and grace.
Slowly I am learning when to be silent.
And when to gather the darkness close to me like a comforting cloak, lift my voice to the rock around me, and sing.