When I lived in Kansas I often visited Northern New Mexico. There in the Chama River Canyon, which cuts deep into the high mountains northwest of Santa Fe, is a rugged and beautiful landscape. Cliffs rise from the canyon floor until they shine in the sun, their sheer sides lined with striations of pink, rose, brown and tan, revealing the ages of the earth and its upheavals. Scattered in these cliffs are crevices and caves, and sometimes if you climb up to the top of one then descend down its face, you can find a cave that’s reasonably accessible to explore.
My friend, on a day of hiking, found such a cave and spent the long afternoon there listening to the sounds echoing up from the canyon below: the wild horses running, coyotes calling across the canyon, the voices of monks at prayer singing chants in the chapel below, singing birds and whispering trees, and water running fast in the river far below. A symphony of great beauty. When he came back he told me about it and tried to show me where it was, so I could go there.
He was alight with the joy of his day, filled with the wonder of it, and he wanted to share it with me. We both stared at the face of the cliff wall as he tried to direct my eyes to the place where the cave lies hidden in plain sight. He kept describing it and pointing to it, saying, “There, see, just under where that scrub pine is growing, not far from where that footpath ends above it – can you see it?” and I’d say, no, I couldn’t; and he’d try again. “There,” he’d say, “you can barely make it out, it’s just a line in the rocks, very faint; can you see it now?” And, of course, I still couldn’t see what he so much wanted me to see and appreciate. We went on like that for a while, him wanting so much for me to see what he was trying to show me, and I completely unable to make it out amid the shadows and lines etched on the rough cliff wall.
I’ve thought about that experience often over the years. There’s a powerful poignancy in the memory because it mirrors a deep longing that I believe many of us have: to share our experience with someone else, to share the beauty we find in the world. Poignant because that longing too often meets a sad inability in those of us asked to receive the gift to recognize and embrace what is offered. We miss the chance to experience communion.