In a parish church near my apartment in Prague is this side chapel dedicated to Mary in the Grotto. Or perhaps it is dedicated to some woman in a grotto – I could not translate the Czech. Regardless, this image of a saint being visited by God in a dark, cold, moist cave is intriguing to me because I wonder what longing sits beneath it, trying to be heard. Do we long for God to speak to us? Do we long for darkness and quietness? Do we resonate with the sounds of water flowing and trickling? Do we long to be singled out and so project the possibility through the story of that having happened to another — lending hope that such might happen to us one day?
I think all of these and more seem to fuel the hopes we humans have expressed through these singled out experiences of veneration and visitation. Not all of us lean into this kind of image. I do not. I see God as not visiting others in order to speak to me. God is present — often silent but present and when God desires to speak God never seems to have much trouble saying the annoying, kind, loving, scary, annoying (did I say that already? Well, let’s repeat that one since it shows up so often!) things God seems intent on saying.
The power is perhaps in the grotto and not so much in the revelation. Mary and others are visited by God in the dark quietness. As I read scriptures, I notice that God is so often both shy and vulnerable. God’s shyness and vulnerability seem linked. Rejection is hard to bear and so much the harder when one loves the one doing the rejecting. And God is so deeply rejected by so many of us so often that there is little wonder that God whispers to us in the darkness so that in the event of a sneer or a pretended unawareness of the voice, God may recede back into the dripping, dark quiet of the cave in order to cope in such a way that His anger and pain does not accidentally singe our encampment they way it did for the ancient Hebrews.
If we are made in God’s image then we show to each other God’s attributes. Risking being hurt because we love so deeply is a regular human experience and so must, I think, be one of God’s. Having compassion for God is a startling, unsettling and somehow wonderful experience but will take some time to get used to. It is amazing how much time we spend shouting about the Glory and majesty of God in church. Might we be, occasionally, simply trying to avoid the much harder intimacy which requires so much deeper a heart and so much broader a soul and so much more profound a compassion than we sometimes are willing to feel?