by Oliver Carlos
I am an eyewitness to 2 major volcanic eruptions. These were eruptions that I felt firsthand while in Laguna. The first one was the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption. I was in 3rd year college when that happened. There was actually a typhoon crossing Luzon on the same day of the eruption. It was raining when Mt. Pinatubo blew its top during the night of June 15. Although the volcano was hundreds of kilometers away from Los Banos, Laguna, its ashes covered my hometown. When I woke up in the morning, I thought I was in Winter Wonderland. Everything was white! All the trees, and even the grass, were colored white.
In the next days, more reports about the eruption flooded the media. Only then did I realize that the damage of the eruption was a lot worse than I thought of at first. Experts say that the Mt. Pinatubo eruption was the world’s 2nd worst volcanic eruption of the century. Many died, and towns in Pampanga and Zambales were buried in ash and mud.
A new word became popular- “lahar.” It’s like an avalanche of white volcanic ash mixed with mud rolling downhill and eating up everything along its way. Lahar flows would happen every time there was a typhoon or heavy rain. During days with no rain, the surroundings were very dusty, especially in Central Luzon, where we had our yearly vacation. After sweeping the floor, dust would cover it again in seconds. We never stopped sweeping the floor in our ancestral house in Tarlac. The over-all landscape was whitish, including the mountains in the area. The trees were ash-laden for more than a decade.
Meanwhile, the Taal eruption in 2020 was less explosive yet it was also destructive. We were in Pasig watching Jethro’s football game when Taal erupted on January 12. We hurried driving home after the game. When we were past Alabang, we entered the ash fall zone. It was literally raining sand! The following morning, memories of the 1991 eruption came alive. Ash was everywhere once again. But the difference was the color of the ash. Taal’s ash was black, similar to the sand that we use in making concrete.
I thought the Taal ashes would linger around for a decade like Pinatubo’s. I kept on blabbing that as I cleaned my surroundings that week. Thank God, in less than a year, the ashes were gone. I felt ashamed for having little faith. I shouldn’t have been that pessimistic about the recovery period. I forgot that God has the power to clean up the landscape of ashes in his sovereign time.
In the Bible, ash is a symbol of devastation. It’s the result of a fire or a volcanic eruption. It’s also the end-product of the decomposition of a human body. Israelites would put ashes on their heads and bodies as a sign of mourning. Ash is like another word for death.
We all encounter devastating moments. In our life, there would be sorrowful experiences. Sometimes, it may be because of our own fault, but sometimes it’s not. Most of the time, these tragedies are unexplainable. They can come anytime, even at times we least expect them to happen. We also don’t know for how long the pain of the experience would last.
But God is faithful. He has this wonderful promise for us in Isaiah 61:2–3 (NLV):
“He has sent me to tell about the year of the Lord’s favor…..He has sent me to comfort all who are filled with sorrow. To those who have sorrow in Zion I will give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes.”
God said that he will take away the ashes on our head. He will replace it with a beautiful crown! He is saying that we should never lose hope if we are in a sorrowful situation. Just trust him and his timing. One day we will be rejoicing. One day he will show the world his great power. So take heart, because we know that that day will surely come.