Caves Are A Suitable Replacement For Heaven

Now that a little more than a year has passed since the great upending of my life, I find myself more often reflecting on the first psychic loss that prefigured this one, the loss of the hope of heaven, and the various terrors that fell out of its collapse – the fear of time, the fear of the infinite, the fear of change, the fear of memory, the fear of obliteration, the fear of the moment before obliteration, the fear of anticipation, the fear of noticing, the fear of history, the fear of progress, the fear of revelation, the fear of ignorance. For all that heaven might have been a mere continuation of the same surveillance and forced-cheer of white evangelical Christianity, the prospect of being extended into something endless and familiar was as reassuring and pleasurable as the prospect of a good, long meal without the possibility of hangover and indigestion. It meant the switching-off of worry and slipping into rest: Yes, there’s this. The loss of one’s family, the loss of the belief in one’s family’s potential for goodness or even salvageability, the loss of safety, etc, were all subsequent — not less, necessarily, but could not have preceded the first loss.

The endlessness of time, in either direction, without heaven to anchor it, seemed at best superfluous (What do we need such big amounts of it for? Surely half, or even a quarter, would do) and hostile. Modernism has mostly covered this problem, so I won’t linger here, but I believe caves to be an excellent application to such fears, and recommend them broadly. Last night I showed Cave of Forgotten Dreams, an old favorite, to Grace, and was reminded anew of the steadying, bracing spiritual anchorweight of a good cave:

A cave is an archive of great time slotted into a size and scale manageable to the human spirit. It is a repository of steadiness, of accumulation, of accretion; floors build up and ceilings drip down. Time is decoupled from life and the one progresses largely in the other’s absence, cave spiders and the occasional bat notwithstanding. I like them very much, and find them deeply restful places, when I have the chance to stand inside of one. The cave does not think about me, as it is kept constantly occupied by the organizing and cataloging of its own archival records, which provides me with the freedom to contemplate my own place in the archives after the time dedicated to noticing the archives has passed and the time comes to join in. The cave, like the archive, like some surgical patients, has been tucked away from everyday activity, cooled and shielded from friction, and left to live on slower terms than usual until such time as the necessary effect has been achieved.

The basic principles of the Clock of the Long Now (or Millennium Clock) are:

  1. Longevity: The clock should be accurate even after 10,000 years, and must not contain valuable parts (such as jewels, expensive metals, or special alloys) that might be looted.

  2. Maintainability: Future generations should be able to keep the clock working, if necessary, with nothing more advanced than Bronze Age tools and materials.

  3. Transparency: The clock should be understandable without stopping or disassembling it; no functionality should be opaque.

  4. Evolvability: It should be possible to improve the clock over time.

  5. Scalability: To ensure that the final large clock will work properly, smaller prototypes must be built and tested.

A cave possesses most of these same qualities, though it might be looted from time to time, requires very little in terms of maintenance aside from water and a lack of interruption. Of course, all longevities shrink in the great accounting of time; huge terrors become small one and wink out of existence. The cave at Chauvet has been kept in such remarkable condition due to a sudden rockfall 28,000 years ago. An abrupt end, followed by preservation, transformation, collaboration, rest, re-discovery, analysis, followed by something else yet to come in the archives of time — a cave is a good place for agony and fear to rest a while, before contemplating activity again.