. . . a crown of beauty instead of ashes . . . –Isaiah 61:3 NIV
At 8:32 a.m. on May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted in a violent blast that blew out the north side of the mountain. Everything within eight miles—man, beast, and vegetation—met with instant death and destruction. Shock waves leveled everything within their path, including centuries-old trees, for another 19 miles. Beyond that, the trees that remained were nothing more than standing matchsticks, seared of leaves and life.
Fifty-seven people lost their lives in what was the most destructive volcanic eruption in U.S. history. Miles of roads and railroad tracks were destroyed. Ash spewed 12 miles high, then mushroomed out, eventually dumping an estimated 500 million tons in 11 states and five Canadian provinces.
The blast, and the accompanying earthquake, altered the landscape and forever changed the ecosystem.
In July Dean and I visited the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. We toured the museum, viewed displays and read placards, listened to an energetic ranger give an animated talk, and sat through a jaw-dropping video that captured the lateral blast.
We stood, awestruck, as we gazed at what was once, at 4,400 feet above sea level, the fifth highest peak in the state of Washington.
Today the north face of Mount St. Helens, which lost 1,300 feet in elevation in the blast, is one gigantic crater, the area around it a moonscape, gray and lifeless. Sun-bleached tree trunks are strewn over the ash-dotted hillsides surrounding the volcano.
But the place is anything but dead.
Prairie lupine and other wildflowers bob their colorful petals above the green meadow grass. We watched elk graze in the North Fork Toutle River Valley, where patches of trees are making a comeback.
Nothing has been planted, at least not intentionally. After the initial cleanup following the eruption, the area was left to nature. Within a month, avalanche lilies poked their heads through ash deposits 10 miles away.
One of the documentaries we viewed was titled, “Eternal cycle of destruction and renewal.”
“Where humans see catastrophe,” the narrator said, “nature sees opportunity.”
How true. The more I learn about the eruption and how the area is naturally recovering, the more I am in awe of nature—and the One who created it.
Out of destruction came new life—not the same as before, but life nevertheless. Plants grew that couldn’t have thrived in the shadow of the forest. The nutrients in the volcanic ash allowed different species of plants to grow. A new kind of beauty emerged from and because of the ashes.
As I gazed at the prairie lupine in the meadows and the splashes of red, orange, yellow, and white swaying in the summer breeze on nature’s palette, a phrase from Isaiah came to mind: “a crown of beauty for ashes.”
There are times our lives are rocked to the core. Our very foundations are shaken. That with which we’re familiar—comfortingly familiar—is blasted away. A gaping, colorless void replaces the mount where our dreams once reached for the sky.
The landscape of our lives is forever changed. Fallout obscures our vision, clogs our breathing, snuffs out our hopes. We will never be the same.
But all is not lost. For out the ashes will come new life. Out of destruction renewal.
For where we see catastrophe, God sees opportunity—to stretch us, transform us, change our direction, grow our faith, give us a life we could never have imagined before. A life resplendent with new color, new dreams, new hope.
If God so cared about nature that He placed seeds of renewal in what appears to be total destruction, will He not care for you?
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” Jesus says in Matthew 10:29–31. “Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows.”
Thank You that what I view as the end is not the end, O Lord, but really a new beginning. Amen.
Read and meditate on Psalm 46
(c) 2017 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.