Sunday, September 5, 2010

From the belly of the earth

The situation of the 33 miners trapped now for a month 700 meters beneath the Chilean desert has captured the hearts of people around the world. I am drawn to pray for these miners partly because of my own background and the stories I grew up with.

My father was born into a coal mining family in Pennsylvania. The little town of Dirth existed for the mine, and with the depletion of the coal many years ago, the town itself disappeared. My dad was the youngest son in a family of 13 kids. Grandpa was the mine foreman, and my dad’s older brothers worked the mines. Later in life, two of my uncles died from black lung disease. Dad and his older sister Olive were the only kids out of the 13 to leave the community in order to get a college education.

But while he may have left the mines, the mines did not leave my father, and we, his children, grew up on the stories of the dangers the miners routinely faced, the accidents, the cave-ins, the diseases. These still haunt my dreams. My years of living in Bolivia contributed to this frightening connection; much of the history and current agony of this country was forged in her mines.

Right now I am riveted to the continuing drama of the Chilean miners. It’s what I think about when I wake up in the middle of the night. I join my prayers to those of many others for the success (and speed!) of the rescue operations and for the Spirit of God to enable these men to find healthy ways to cope while they wait and hope.

The fact of their very survival to this point seems miraculous, and that is certainly how the people of Chile are taking it. Newspaper articles and reports from my friends in Chile detail the universal sense of euphoria upon discovering that the miners were still alive. It seems that the streets erupted into one gigantic party!

One of my friends, Luis Cruz Villalobos, is a Presbyterian pastor and clinical psychologist in Santiago. He is also a poet, composer, troubadour and encourager of Christians involved in the arts. Luis is a PRODOLA student, doing his doctoral research in theology and psychology, looking at the intersection between faith and resiliency when people face crisis situations. His field study is with survivors of the February 2010 earthquake in Chile.

Naturally, the drama of the trapped miners affects Luis deeply. In a recent article posted on his web site, Luis reflects on five attitudes that contribute to the resiliency of these 33 miners. He identifies these attitudes as gratitude, humor, hope, solidarity, and faith. He points out the numerous expressions of gratitude in the messages the miners have managed to send up and sees the disposition to gratefulness as a fundamental spiritual resource in times of crisis. And humor, even there, in the belly of the earth where the situation is certainly no laughing matter, even there the ability of the miners to refuse to see themselves as victims, to acknowledge their human fragility and to deal gently with one another as they wait and hope, this is life-giving. Concerning solidarity, Luis notes that among the first questions the miners had once communication was established was whether or not their fellow miners had escaped.

A portion of Scripture that helps me as I pray for the Chilean miners comes from Psalm 40:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the Lord….

Yet I am poor and needy;
may the Lord think of me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
O my God, do not delay.

Amen. So be it.


  1. Oh Nancy! I plan to share this with my students this week. It is filled with wisdom, hope, love, grace, faith and joy--all of which are available to those who wait, trust, pray and sing to the God who created them and hears their cries. I am conscious of how readily we who control so much have forgotten how to wait, pray, sing and cry. Do we no longer trust that there is a God who hears, who can be trusted even when we walk in the valley of the shadow? Pray for me, for us.

  2. Bless you, dear anonymous (and, yes, I know your name). Yes, I will pray for you and your class.