Our Navajo guide deserted us just moments after he pointed us into a crack in the earth and down the steep stairs to the bottom of Antelope Canyon, a corkscrew slot in the desert floor not far from Lake Powell, Arizona. From above, one would never guess what lay beneath.
Antelope Canyon is a magical quarter mile long, 120’ deep sliver scoured by rushing water within Navajo Nation lands. While surprised to be abandoned, I was just as happy, as this allowed me to explore this silent underground cathedral at my leisure. I held back, letting the group move on without me, the echo of their voices becoming faint.
Inside, striations of sandstone play with the filtered light, creating a shifting palette of soft colors evoking reverence and awe. Like the transformation of light through fragments of stained and broken glass in a church.
I’m always humbled by the manner in which the Master Artist repeats natural designs: from the tiny fractals evident in delicate ferns to the many ways that water brushes its fingers along stone, caressing it into eddies and ripples and swirls imprinted for a millennia. Weaving amongst these gentle, water-carved walls, I felt cocooned and embraced within the waves of the sea.
I have struggled with the meaning of this memory of Antelope Canyon, trying to understand why it visits me time and time again…what these images of water, earth and light have to teach me.
I have come to this, whether it be true or grasping: I’ve entered my own hidden places in recent months, dropping lower and lower through the layers that my years have laid around me. And in that place, I’ve wandered the stripped down corridors of self, searching for origins….tracing the tiny breaks that grew, over time, to canyons of fear and doubt, of spite and loss, of judgment and sorrow.
“I believe in the beauty of all things broken.”
~Terry Tempest Williams, Finding Beauty in a Broken World.
But in this time alone, I began to accept and appreciate these grooves and furrows, to see how they shaped and brought colour to my life. Although these fissures have sometimes caused me to hurt others or myself, I have come to understand that each of them has value; each break comes with blessing, with its own contribution to the texture of a soul forgiven and renewed. Only then, could I begin to understand how God’s love washes through, softening the rough edges. How, viewed from within, His light illuminates the grain and design I could not see from outside.
Why is it that we feel compelled to strive for perfection? Why are we reluctant to accept that true beauty is only crafted from brokenness?
That when we hide from our broken places – when we refuse to descend into them – we cheat ourselves of understanding the beauty created from them. We miss finding the ways in which the deepest, most shattered parts of ourselves can also be the most cherished. How they lift us from the ordinary.
I dreamed, not long ago, of entering a mountain…of drifting in on the current of a river…then walking corridors of stone, of fearlessly reaching into a crevasse of darkness, then of tracing rugged walls illuminated with diffused light. I emerged some time later and, from afar, I watched myself stride the narrow cobbled streets of an ancient city carved into the side of the mountain. I was wearing red shoes.
who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17