Spelunking and Writing in the Deep Dark

When my husband was in college, he and a group of friends went spelunking in an undeveloped cave called Devil’s Icebox near Columbia, Missouri .

Unbeknownst to them, while they spent hours exploring the 6.25 miles of underground passages, it had started raining. When they attempted to return to the entrance, through a narrow tunnel so low they had to meander like snakes on their bellies, they noticed the water was rising. Forced to grope for breaks in the rocks in the tunnel’s ceiling, they were able to gasp for breath in the air pockets.

All the flames in their carbide headlamps became drenched in their scramble to get out of the narrow section and save their lives.

Their lights extinguished.


Carbide headlamps or acetylene gas lights were popular with cavers at the time for the bright white light they produced. Unfortunately the flint system–like a lighter–needed to be kept dry.

My husband and his friends, having survived the narrow section, found themselves stranded in utter blackness.

And the water was rising.

Eventually one of the girls in the group found one dry corner on her shirt collar. They dried the flint, lit the lamps and exited to safety.

Despite that experience, my husband still enjoys exploring deep underground caves, corkscrewing his body through narrow passages and entering the unknown.

Me? Not so much.

But I have been in the Deep Dark. My Deep Dark has been cancer.

Perhaps you have your own difficult place.

In the Deep Dark we find ourselves in unknown passageways wondering how in the world we are going to turn on our lights and find our way home.

In the meantime we wrestle in darkness.

Darkness of the unknown. Darkness of our deepest fears. Dark nights of the soul.

Where we wonder where God is in it all.

I have waited on a doctor’s examining table and known the deep darkness. I have sat at a dining room table holding hands with my parents after hearing the diagnosis of my mom’s stage four and heard Dad pray to “our God who is in control.” And I wanted to shout, “God is in control?”

The Deep Dark is a place for shouting. A place for questioning. A place of fumbling for the light.

As writers, one of our challenges is to explore the Deep Dark and take our readers with us as we plunge the depths. One of our most difficult responsibilities is to put into words what people are afraid to whisper in the shadows.

But we don’t leave our readers there.

With our pens … with our pencils … with our keyboards … we craft light in the passages to lead our readers home, home to a God who sees in the dark.

“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,’
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.”  Psalm 139:11-12 NASB

So grab your carbide headlamps. It’s time to go spelunking!

13 Replies to “Spelunking and Writing in the Deep Dark”

  1. This is my idea of a perfect post, Lynn, and I don’t say that lightly. I’m actually something of a post connoisseur and don’t impress easily. I’m a nonfiction writer and blogger and am currently working on a daily devo. Your wonderful post has everything the best devos have – interesting and enlightening (pun intended) anecdote that leads seamlessly to your personal experience and then Wham! before you know it, there’s the applicable scripture and take-away that are so touching-folks-in-their-sore-spots, you think about them all day.

    Besides the exceptional tone, structure and form, I was moved by your content; your story (and your husband’s too) really hit home for so many of us. Thank you for using your talent to communicate so beautifully that Papa God really is in control, even in the darkness.

    1. Thank you Deborah. I appreciate the detailed encouragement you wrote to me. I pray for insight as you work on your devotional and pull deep truths out of your examples and stories.

  2. What an encouraging message to give me the courage to keep writing of the “deep dark” and to apply the light. I’m heading towards that enlightening moment in my book where the deep dark will be dispelled and it is scary. I’ll be sure to grab my carbide headlamp and plunge ahead to the light.

    1. Happy Spelunking! Prayers as you seek to write truth in dark places, a difficult, but satisfying task.

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