In 2007, National Geographic wrote an article about the Crystal Cave discovered in the Naica Mine of Chihuahua, Mexico. The cave contains some of the world’s largest known natural crystals—translucent beams of gypsum as long as 36 feet (11 meters). The limestone cavern and its glittering beams were discovered in 2000 by a pair of brothers drilling nearly a thousand feet below ground in the Naica mine. Closer to the surface another cave was found and dubbed the “Cave of Swords” because of the sheer magnitude of crystal daggers it contained. Scientists who have visited and studied these caves are awe-struck by their beauty. And some have marveled that it’s like being in a landscape previously only read about in science fiction.
The discovery of the crystal caves became possible after the decision to pump out gallons of mineral-rich water in order to mine silver, zinc, and lead. It was this type of water in addition to the steady temperature of 136 degrees Fahrenheit that allowed the crystals to form in the first place. With the absence of the water, the crystals stopped growing. And this is what fuels the present controversy: Should the discovery continue to be available for future generations, or should the cave be re-submerged so that these amazing crystals continue to form?
Extreme temperatures and a certain type of water caused the crystals to grow. Remove either of those factors, and the growth stops
BIBLICAL SWORDSWhen we first discover the story of Christ’s birth in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark & Luke, it too strikes awe and wonder in our hearts. The pregnant hope that seeps through the Isaiah prophecies. The majesty of the angel Gabriel as he appears first to Zechariah and later to Mary. The decision of Joseph to trust God despite the mystifying circumstances of Mary’s pregnancy. The simplicity of the shepherds and their willingness to seek out a newborn babe that promises to bring peace to all peoples. And the splendor of the Magi who cross a desert with gifts for a king. We marvel at a landscape that seems more like fantasy than reality.
But if we look more closely, we stumble upon complexities that stun us. Submerged beneath the beauty, are messy emotions and horrifying danger. Israel is subjugated under Roman tyranny, the Roman sword constantly at her throat. Fear, political anxiety and economic depression are the buzz words in the streets. Zealots practice guerilla warfare hoping for a revolution. When she is in her third trimester, Mary travels with Joseph to Bethlehem on an open road ripe with bandits. No lodging, meal, or hot shower awaits them upon their arrival. Jesus is born in unsanitary conditions without the assistance of medical expertise. King Herod is threatened by the news of a newborn king and orders the slaughter of infants up through the age of two in hopes of wiping out the threat. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus flee for their lives to Egypt.
At first glance, the story is joy, peace, and hope. At second glance, the story is fear, desperation, and despair. Extreme emotions splashed across the written pages of our Scriptures. Intense heat. Deep waters. And it is in the midst of this complexity that God chooses to become human. God grows his relationship with humanity in a way we can barely comprehend . . . through sacrificial love.
SWORDS THAT PIERCEWhen Joseph and Mary present Jesus at the Temple for his circumcision, they are met by Simeon, a righteous and devout man. Moved by the Holy Spirit, Simeon takes Jesus in his arms and praises God. He declares that his eyes have seen God’s salvation. And then he says to Mary, "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." (Luke 2:34-35)
What does a mother do with the words, “A sword will pierce your own soul too”? Her son was only eight days old. What did these strange words mean? And did these words come back to haunt her on the day she stood at the foot of a cross and watched her beloved son die? A sword will pierce your own soul too.
My own soul has been pierced by many swords. Pain, fear, turmoil, anguish, despair. Just three days ago dear friends of mine lost their son to a pulmonary embolism. A young man in graduate school, brilliant and at the brink of embracing his life, is suddenly gone. I wept. I can only imagine the raw grief of his parents. The sword that pierced their hearts. My only comfort was the knowledge that when he closed his eyes here on earth, he re-opened them in the presence of Jesus.
On the days I stumble into the Cave of Swords, I am rarely prepared. The blood I shed drains me of life. I rail at God from the depths of my being. But the fears, the anguish, the anger that I hurl at God like a wicked curve ball, does not strike my God out. My God does not run away at the first sign of trouble. My God does not shut down when I scream back. My God has promised not to abandon me when the world’s swords pierce my gut. Instead, I am enfolded in God’s arms, and loved through the mystery. All is not explained. But I am never alone.
The story of Jesus’ birth is not all joy and glory. It is shadowed by pain and anguish. Thank goodness. Because for me, this is what grounds it in reality. What makes it possible for me to claim it as truth even today, over 2000 years later. Real life is hard, and often dangerous. It is full of caves with extreme emotions that pierce your soul like a sword.
PROFOUND BEAUTYBut there is also beauty. Profound beauty. Awe-inspiring wonder. And that is what I push forward to discover despite the pain. Spiritual growth happens no matter how deep the sword thrusts. Why? The miracle of Jesus. The light shining in the darkness. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Jesus. My hope and my prayer. May the swords in my spirit, may the swords in your spirits, be soothed by his blessed peace. Amen.
(Facts in the opening paragraphs from: Shay, Neil. Crystal Palace. National Geographic. November 2008. Read online 12/16/09)
David and Joyce Reed serve in La Paz, Mexico. They are on U.S. assignment until July 2010.