A Saving Light in the Darkness

“We came from Caladan–a paradise world for our form of life. There existed no need on Caladan to build a physical paradise or paradise of the mind–we could see the actuality all around us. And the price we paid was the price men have always paid for achieving a paradise in this life–we went soft, we lost our edge.” Frank Herbert, Dune~

Imagine spending your daylight hours–most of them in an eighteen-inch tunnel shoveling coal out of your space by hand. Your son stands ready to fill a large bin on wheels just outside the small tunnel. You both get paid for production–not time invested.

You also provide the fuel to warm the homes in your community and beyond.

Boys go to school until it’s time to go to the mines. They grow up and raise families. Sons in the mines, daughters in the kitchens–all working to make life better for the next ones coming. That is the story of the Arigna Coal Mine–now a tourist site–in Ireland.

I grew up in a railroad town near the heart of America’s coal country. I remember the strip mines dotting our rolling mountains. Now restored, the mountains appear never to have been mined.

Yet, mining still happens around us. As my husband and I drove across a bridge in town the other day, we saw a long line of rail cars all filled to the brim with coal.

Mining still happens, but it’s no longer a lone man picking and shoveling out a tiny tunnel.

When machines came to Arigna, they had the opposite effect of what we might expect. Today when we consider robotics and technology in the workplace, we calculate how many jobs will go by the wayside as machines replace workers.

When mining found technology, the industry needed more workers to haul the greater bounty out of the mountain. And since production increased, and since the workers earned through production, both jobs and earnings grew.

Yet in Arigna, one thing remained. And it resonates in my heart every time I ponder it.

When we entered the mine–now a large, reinforced tunnel to accommodate tourists rather than miners–there was a picture of Christ. The tour guide–at a government-funded site, mind you–explained that workers prayed as they began their shifts–prayed for safety–and God answered and blessed.

Our guide credited Christ as the “safety officer” of the mine that produced, first iron, then coal for more than 400 years. In 400 years of mining–with no safety agency overseeing operations until the 1980s–only one man died.*

I’ve pondered the faith and devotion of those miners since my visit to Arigna. And I’ve pondered the life of unimaginable (to me) work!

Like us, they were imperfect. They had conflicts with neighbors and petty jealousies.

They had unmet dreams. In the 1960s, they staged a strike that lasted several months.

Yet overall, they seemed to have a kind of satisfaction we lack today. Life was hard but good.

That’s an idea that seems so foreign to us. We do all we can to resist it. We work with the expectation that life will get better and better must mean easier and more prosperous. Easier and more prosperous came to the miners of Arigna through technology. But they never took the picture down of the One they believed kept them safe.

Life is hard. It’s easier and more prosperous for some. But there is meaning in difficulty. And the One who watched over the Arigna miners is faithful.

Photo Credit: RTE Archives, Arigna Mine

*One website asserts that “five or six died” over the years. Another says, “Accidents were few and far between.”

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

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26 Replies to “A Saving Light in the Darkness”

  1. “Easier and more prosperous came to the miners of Arigna through technology. But they never took the picture down of the One they believed kept them safe.” Wow. This is an exception to what happens 99% of the time. Just reading the Old Testament history of Israel, I see that in “good” times they forgot God, and it took hardship to bring them back to Him. I think we’re seeing the same thing in America. I wish we would follow the example of these dear people and stay devoted to God in good times AND hard. Thanks so much for sharing this.

  2. “And the price we paid was the price men have always paid for achieving a paradise in this life–we went soft, we lost our edge.” Frank Herbert, Dune~

    I know this was not the whole point of your post – but it grabbed me! Words to ponder, for sure.

  3. Nancy, enjoyed this piece. My mom moved us (her, me and my sister) to my grandparents home the summer before second grade. So I grew up in the southwest mountains of Virginia in the coal mines. But over the last 6-7 years, many of the mines have shut down and miners have lost their way to make a living and way of life. One of my mom’s best friends lost her husband in a coal mine accident. Maybe you’ve heard of the book and movie, Big Stone Gap. That’s my hometown.

    I love that there was a picture of Christ in the mine there and they considered Him a “Safety Officer.”

  4. Nancy, what a memorable story! We have much to learn from people who survived on so much less than we. Perhaps in our luxury lifestyle here in the modern West, we have exchanged God’s best for that which makes us soft, softened to the call of the world, and resistant to God’s call to rise above.

  5. Only one died? Wow! I love that they give the credit to God and not simply their own strength and smarts. That was what hit me the most while reading this. It’s something I need to remember daily – giving God the glory for everything I accomplish.

  6. David tells us in Psalm 139 that the darkness is as light to him. We need not fear when we perceive darkness. One of the cool things about the new heaven/ Earth is that there will be no need of the sun, for the glory of God will be so bright!

  7. What an incredible story, Nancy. “Life is hard” as you write, and I agree with your statement, “there is meaning in difficulty.” The biggest reason there is meaning is because of our utter dependence upon Christ as these miners lived. Your post is thought-provoking. Thank you!

  8. Amen Sister in Christ-Messiah Jesus-Yeshua Nancy!!

    ( I John 1:5-7 KJV ) “This then is the Message which we have Heard of Him, and declare unto you, that GOD is Light, and in HIM is no darkness at all. If we say that we have Fellowship with HIM, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the Truth: But if we Walk in the Light, as HE is in the Light, we have Fellowship one with Another, and the Blood of Jesus-Yeshua Christ His SON Cleanseth us from all sin.”!!

    I Love you all Everyone through Christ-MESSIAH Jesus-Yeshua, because HE LOVED ?? EVERYONE FIRST!!

    Love ?Always and Shalom ( Peace ), YSIC \o/

    Kristi Ann

  9. What faith and trust they had to do this work day after day, year after year, knowing one thing: it was their job. Yet we so often tire of things because we “get bored” or “want more money.” We always want more x, y, z and q regardless of what these things actually are or whether we even need them! I can take a lesson from these miners: do my work with diligence, as though I’m serving Christ himself. Thanks for a beautifully written piece, Nancy.

    1. Thank you, Jessica. I felt humbled when I heard their story. These are the great heroes of the world–the people who day after day provide for loved ones by engaging in drudgery largely without complaint–and with thankfulness for having a job. Very much unlike me. God bless!

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