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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