In the 1960s the small town of Centralia was in its heyday. About 1,200 people lived and worked there, in the heart of the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania. But today it is a virtual ghost town. Less than 10 of its original 1000-plus residents remain. What in the world happened?
It all started in 1962. Municipal workers were burning trash in a land fill – an old abandoned strip mining pit. Though it seemed insignificant at the time, the fire ignited an exposed seam of coal – and it never stopped burning. Deeper and deeper the fire burned, consuming the seam of coal. Then the underground fire hit the region’s labyrinth of abandoned mine shafts and branched out in every direction.
Engineers set forth various plans do deal with the fire, everything from pumping flame retardant chemicals down mine shafts to digging a 500-foot deep trench around the town of Centralia to contain the fire. But the state and local governments were unwilling to flip the bill for such radical measures. “Let the fire burn itself out” was the verdict. In other words, do nothing. It was a costly mistake.
The fire didn’t burn itself out. Instead it turned Centralia into a smoldering hell. Toxic fumes began to emit from places throughout the town, causing serious health problems for the townspeople.
Then came the sinkholes. The ground began to cave in as the seams of coal were consumed and the mine shafts below collapsed. One sinkhole, 4-feet-wide and 150-feet deep, opened up and nearly swallowed a 12-year-old boy who saved himself only by grabbing some exposed tree roots. Centralia’s main thoroughfare, Highway 61, began to crack and cave in as well. Entire forests died from the ever increasing ground temperature, which in some places rose to 1100 degrees Fahrenheit.
By the 1980s life became intolerable – and all hopes that the hidden fire would ‘burn itself out’ diminished. Today geologists sadly acknowledge that there is enough coal beneath Centralia to keep the fire going for 250 years!
What kind of blaze burns within our hearts, deep below the surface? Maybe it started out as just a small spark of anger or a flame of bitterness. But it was left unattended. Maybe we fueled it with self-pity and resentment or nurtured a rotten attitude until it turned to hatred. But we cannot contain the poison within us indefinitely. It erupts here and there. Unaddressed, our all-consuming anger can turn our lives into a smoldering hell, making us impossible to live with or get along with.
But God can quench the fire, speak peace to the storm that rages in our soul, and fill our wounded heart with His healing love. He can “pour his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit He gives to us” (Romans 5:5). Open your heart wide to God. Let Him quell the tempest inside you. Let Him fill you with His love and peace.
Dear Father in heaven, I confess my sins, shortcomings, and weaknesses to you. As best as I know how, I open my heart to You. Please remove the bitterness and poison from my soul. In its place fill my heart with your love by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.