Faith below the surface

On Oct. 13, beginning just after midnight, the Chilean miners who were trapped for 69 days, were rescued. But in the midst of the mixture of all the trauma and hope, something else--something other than just the miners themselves--emerged from the darkness.

"Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!" (Ps 130:1)

More than the amazing discipline and perseverance of the miners, their families, the mining company, Chilean government officials, NASA, and the whole international community of scientists, engineers and emergency and health care workers, this story is one of faith and faithfulness.

The mine roof had collapsed on Aug. 5. It wasn't until 17 days later that the miners were unexpectedly discovered alive. On that day, they sent two notes up to the surface in a plastic bag attached to the camera probe. At 63, the oldest of the miners wrote, "I am OK thanks to God. I hope to get out soon. Patience and faith. God is great and the help of my God is going to make it possible to leave this mine alive."

Initial estimates of how long a rescue would take were staggering. Most were sometime in December. During the many weeks that followed, families spoke to each other via cell phones, they saw each other on video cameras. And letters continued to pass between the surface and the bottom of the shaft. Just one day before the rescue, another letter was sent up. "There are actually 34 of us, because God has never left us down here." Those were the words of the youngest miner, a 19 year old who had planned to return to school in September.

International reporters have chronicled the miners' peril, but not their faith. They did not report the miners' request for a crucifix or statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the saints. They were diligent to communicate the desperation of such a difficult situation. They said little, however, of the hope and courage and faith that overcame the desperation. They said nothing of the God who saves, who remained in the mine with them, kept them alive, and who brought them up from the half a mile beneath the surface of the earth. The mine could easily have become their grave. Instead, they made it a shrine.

"He descended into hell." (The Apostles' Creed)

Great thought and skill went into the design and construction of the Phoenix capsule that brought the miners back to life on the surface. But the vehicle was not sent down empty. You have to be amazed by the willingness of emergency and rescue workers to go down into a place in which 33 men have been trapped for months. Sure, it looks like you won't be there long. But there aren't any guarantees.

As I watched the first rescue worker get into the capsule, all I could think of was the traditional icon of the resurrection. Jesus, at the shattered open tomb, is pulling Adam and Eve up from the depths of the grave. Once the miners were up, little attention was paid to the six men who descended in the capsule to help them. You can't just send instructions or even a vehicle; you have to send someone. Jesus is that someone for us. He is God's solidarity with us, the rescuer who descends into the pit to find us. He is the way out, the way up, the way home.

"Where can I hide from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, you are there too." (Ps. 139:7-8)

The miners aren't saints, nor have they claimed to be. Perhaps that is part of what is so stirring about their story. It's not that their personal lives are exemplary. It's that God was with them anyway, even at the edge of death, even in the depths of the earth.

"You are a hiding-place for me, you will keep me from distress; you will surround me with songs of deliverance." (Ps 32:7)

I pray that like those 33 Chilean miners, we will once again learn to sing songs of deliverance. All of us need to be saved from something, and none of us can save ourselves. If we seek God in the depths, I suspect we will find him there. I pray that when we do, we will build a new altar to him in our hearts, worship him with all our souls, and tell of his faithfulness to anyone who will listen.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.