Alongside this experience has been a growing desire to return to that place I visited at the beginning of 2014:-
..........I walked for hours along the slowly winding, dusty road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. As the advancing night became deeper and ever colder, stars began to appear. Eventually, enough starlight was shed for me to discern Bethlehem as a darker smudge against the darkened landscape. I continued on my way until I arrived at a large cave to the rear of an inn. Entering the cave through a wooden gate, I could see that the cave was furnished with stalls and mangers for animals, together with feed and bedding. The ground was covered with fresh straw which muffled the sound of my footsteps. Thus it was that no-one present seemed to have noticed my arrival.
I watched awhile from the shadows cast by a stall. A servant girl hurried past my place of concealment, carrying cloths and a container of hot water. When she finally left, I stepped into the soft light and approached a large manger from which emanated a yellowish-white glow. The manger lay across my path so that I approached it from the side. At the right-hand end stood a donkey and a cow looking down into the manger, whilst a sheep rested its chin on the edge, not quite able to see in. At the left-hand end of the manger stood two figures. They were large, painted statues of a man and a woman, presumably representations of Mary and Joseph, constructed from some chalky-looking material
As I continued to approach the manger, the glow from inside became ever brighter, as if the light had become aware of my presence. The statues did not move; they just seemed to be larger than before. The animals looked at me, and their eyes seemed to be cold, devoid of any warm emotion. I leant over the side of the manger, and looked into the depths of the light.
The light reached up and held me, and I realised that there was no visible end to, or source of, the light. At the very heart of the light, surrounded by intense whiteness, were two eyes. There was nothing else except those eyes, dark ellipsoids that narrowed to points at their extremities. Held fast, I 'heard' the eyes speak:-
"You are Mine! Mine!"
Terror washed through me. How could I feel so utterly afraid? I was being drawn down into the light, the eyes coming ever closer. The animals moved slowly to block any retreat I might consider. Deeper and deeper I was drawn until, after summoning all my strength and will, I wrenched myself free, pushed the animals aside, and fled from the cave..........
[Meditation from my private diaries relating to, "The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius."]
It was my wish to experience those moments again, but this time without any intention of running away. This time I wish to remain there, and maybe to understand fully what it means to be lived by that "ineffable unknown-ness." As I continue my walk across my inner, darkened landscape I am suddenly confronted by a manger made of stone. From its awesome depths, and from alien eyes that have lost none of their ferocity, shines a fearsome light. And I look down into those eyes, lost in a sense of awe and wonder.
It is said that pride precedes a fall. In a similar manner I believe it to be true that sometimes our sense of 'knowing-ness' is deliberately built up to prepare us for the experience of falling into 'non-knowing-ness'. All that we say, write and do may all be perfectly correct, because we cannot experience truth against a backdrop of falsehood. In a sense, that makes the awareness of 'non-knowing-ness' all the more profound.
When I stared down into that abyss of light I saw, momentarily, a gulf in meaning between the name of that first century teacher who travelled throughout Palestine, and that appellation so often tagged onto him, "the Christ." Here I experienced no 'gentle Jesus meek and mild' so beloved of popular Christianity, but a force that seemed barely to be contained, or even containable, within the living organism.
I walk in the Darkness, and I see a great Light. And I do not understand It. Yet accept It I must.