Goldfields God-Talk – Super Pit

The Reverend Dr Elizabeth J Smith | Senior Mission Priest | The Goldfields
The Reverend Dr Elizabeth J Smith | Senior Mission Priest | The Goldfields

The Gift of Christmas

It’s not the only open-cut gold mine in the region, but it is the biggest. You can view it from a lookout perched on top of the spoil heap that looms over historic Boulder. You can watch the haul trucks crawling up the sides, looking like ants rather than the giant machines that they are. You can spot entrances to tiny, dark tunnels where the open cut has dug across an old underground working. The pit is deep indeed, but some of the old shafts go even deeper.

Workers on the floor of the pit wear harnesses, dangling from specialised cranes like puppets on cables, in case a hidden void opens beneath them. In what is now thin air over the middle of the pit, little towns once stood: family homes, village shops, schools, churches. Day and night, in 12-hour shifts, the work goes on. Explosives are drilled into rock walls and the pit floor. I feel the vibrations of the blasting at home, kilometres away, around four o’clock most afternoons. A little ore goes to have its gold extracted. A lot of unwanted rock is added to the vast blanket of spoil spread thickly over what was once bushland. It’s now a moonscape: dusty, stark, barren.

I am torn between admiration for the engineering marvel of modern mining and horror at the devastation it leaves. So much skill and science, so many jobs and livelihoods! And so much waste, destruction, bleakness. Perhaps God looks at you and me and has a similar reaction. So much astonishing capacity, such imagination and creativity! And yet so often deflected, deliberately or in ignorance, into destruction and damage. There is no going back to a pristine landscape after a massive mining operation, and there is no going back to human innocence after grievous sin. Forgiveness changes the future, but not the past. Forgiven people may dig over the past, scavenging what good we can from the wreckage. Forgiven people will plant gardens on the debris, coaxing towards beauty and fruitfulness some of what we ruined in greed or haste. But rehabilitation has its limits, in spiritual life as in mining. So forgiven people also pray for God to give what all our work cannot win for us. We pray for a new heaven and a new earth, where the scars of sin are no longer seen, and the sweetness of grace fills everything.

Article published in December 2018/January 2019 Messenger magazine