Spirituality as a Resilience Asset: the Trapped Chilean Miners

We have not yet discussed the important resilience tool of Spirituality. This can take many forms,but is frequently expressed through ordinary religious practices.

Many people rely on spirituality as the center of their resilience assets. Many others may call upon spirituality only if the situation seems frightening or even desperate.

A perfect example of spirituality used in a dramatic crisis is that of the Chilean Miners who in August 2010 were trapped underground in the San Jose mine for 69 days.The story, narrated by Hector Tobar in his best-selling book, “Deep,Down,Dark” is, as we write, opening as a movie.

Tobar’s book is rich in descriptions of spiritual practices and attitudes that served as resilience tools, sustained the miners and, apparently played an important role in their ability to persevere and recover.

Spirituality helped keep the miners sane and helped them to apply their problem-solving abilities to assist those up top to save them before their health deteriorated beyond recovery.

Hector Tobar aptly titled the chapter where prayer by the miners were first described as “We have Sinned.”

One angry miner cried out for the miners to pray, seeing God as the only way out of the grave situation.

He turned to one Christian miner to lead them in prayer. Although many reacted with surprise and amusement, nevertheless all 33 men, as instructed dropped to their knees to humble themselves before their Creator. The miners came from relatively diverse religious backgrounds. They prayed open eyed, closed eyed, with and without tears.

The prayer leader began by stating “We aren’t the best men, but Lord have pity on us.” This statement had a big effect on several of the miners, leading them to acknowledge silently their sins and faults such as drinking too much, being too quick to anger, not being a good father, and infidelities. The miners were encouraged by the leader to humble themselves before God, asking God to guide the rescuers to them. It was common for the men to commit themselves to begin new lives as better men.

The prayers became a daily ritual which preceded the one very skimpy meal each miner had. Soon the prayers included asking out loud for forgiveness for the misdeeds and failings they delivered to family members at home. This morphed into “self-criticism” sessions with apologies to fellow miners for things such as raising their voice toward another, not helping with retrieving water and displaying anger toward another.

Turning to a more powerful force to help them changed the seemingly impossible situation to one that might set them free. They tried their skills to get free and knew at this point that rescuers were working for their release, but this seemed less than reliable and adequate. This daily prayer ritual brought them closer to each other and helped to create a buffer against all the fears and trials of their daily existence.

It provided some daily meaning to their lives and the expressions of gratitude for at least a short time distracted them from negative thoughts and fears. The communal nature of spirituality fostered the extremely valuable resource of connecting with each other as an asset and a means through troubling and challenging times.

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