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Nestled in the southern Blue Ridge mountains of western North Carolina is Cowee Valley in Macon County. Like most valleys, it has gentle slopes which are pastures for grazing livestock. Scattered farmhouses dot the landscape surrounded by towering mountain peaks. One does not see anything that makes the Cowee Valley distinct from any other valley. Yet, visitors flock there, almost year-round. My family has made numerous day trips there…for good reason! Gurgling streams flow through the downward contour of the Cowee Valley, and within and around those water courses lie a variety of gemstones!

Cowee Valley is nicknamed the “Gemstone Capital of the World.” While the quality of rubies and sapphires can be exceptional, there has been no industrial mining after several failed attempts. The so-called “mother lode” has never been found that will a supply suitable quantity. Garnets, rubies, peridot, amethyst, citrine, topaz and kyanite can be found here as well as sapphires and staurolite. Amateur miners come from anywhere and everywhere to try their luck at mining!

Stories abound! Not about people getting rich by finding a large gemstone of great quality, but rather stories that bring a grin to the face! In the 1960s, young children preferred playing in the nearby creek. Since their parents had told them that they would be looking for “pretty rocks’ when they went to Cowee Valley, the children became bored and began playing in the nearby creek. One child, playing in the creek, came running to his mother, saying, “I found a pretty rock!” and gave his mother a red stone. When the family prepared to leave, they asked an employee of the mine to look at their findings and tell them the type of stones and what, if anything, the stones could be worth. So the little child’s stone was shown to the guy. . . .and to this day that stone is the most valuable ruby found! It was worth about a quarter of a million dollars! Let me assure you that any stones that you might find with some value—which are likely to be small–usually have to be cut, faceted, polished and mounted first…at a cost!

Over the years my family has found two- or three-gallon containers of stones. Only then a few small stones of enough quality that we paid to have cut and made into jewelry, most of these gemstones that we found are practically worthless because of a multitude of fractures or poor quality.

When mining, one obtains a bucket of dirt and places some of the contents in a wooden frame box 12 “by 8” (or similar) about 3 inches high with a wire mesh on the bottom. This box of dirt is placed in a long sluice with flowing water. Dirt is washed away, leaving plain ol’ rocks and pebbles, and maybe some gemstones.

My family always went to the mines on sunny days as sunlight will pass through or reflect on gemstones like garnet, peridot, ruby, amethyst, citrine, etc.. However, some stones such as sapphires which do not reflect light can be recognized by its natural eight-sided shape. Sapphires can be found in a wide range of colors and sometimes interlaced by other colors caused by trace amounts of other metals such as iron.

Spurred by our hopes of finding gemstones, we endured the hard work of mining, the constant repetition of washing box after box of dirt in the sluice, standing all day long in the hot sun, piling up the useless rock that we discarded, and trying to keep an eye on

what our kids were finding (or not finding), mining was tedious work, and we did not even have to use an old-timey pick! But we were determined to mine! Gathered along the long sluice with flowing water for washing buckets of dirt would be several families, most of them with children old enough and patient enough to seek gemstones. All day long, excited children and adults would cry out loud, “look at what I found!” with such excitement and enthusiasm! And soon, other miners would add their excited voices as they held up a stone that they hoped would be a “good” stone. And our voices would occasionally join the chorus.

All of us are miners seeking gemstones. The gemstones we seek are not always rock. Did you know that going grocery shopping is a form of mining as we pick and choose among a variety of brands? Buying or trading cars is a mining experience! Whew! Mining is hard work!

When one prepares and trains for a career in a chosen field, one is mining, seeking certification and then employment in that field. Della and I once attended a marriage enrichment seminar sponsored by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in a quest to improve our communications and behaviors in search of a richer and more rewarding marriage relationship. In fact, I wrote an article for THE DISCIPLE magazine about that seminar entitled: “Mining for Rubies!” 

All of us are miners! Anytime any of us seek advice from a trusted friend or a professional, we are mining for the gemstones of quality that may enhance our lives and our relationships. Today, we “mine” the internet often to look for data and solutions or to twiddle away the stress of the day..

All of us are miners or prospectors. Miners are seekers. The Scripture admonishes us to “seek the Lord while He may be found.” But we have got to understand that we cannot merely find God, we must also know God. And a-mining we go because we cannot become content with a courtesy handshake with God! The more about God

that we mine, the more our own lives can be transformed. The more we discover about God (The Gemstone), the greater our joy in cutting and polishing that Gemstone! All through my life, I have made new discoveries about God, and sometimes, when I cut and polish those gemstones, I am acutely aware that I am giving up a fractured or older, immature, mistaken view of God that I once held.

One of my concerns as a minister retiring in 2017 was that I would not be able to find a congregation in which I would be challenged to keep mining THE GEMSTONE. I feared that I would lose my desire to attend church because I am a miner, and I need to learn and to grow. Here, at Central Christian Church, Sunday after Sunday Pastor Rick’s sermons both delight and challenge me! Again and again, I find myself “mining” and having to “cut” a new facet showing a part of God that I did not know, and again and again, I find myself having to “polish” my image of God as I glean new or deeper insights which enriches my relationship to God. 

Are you a miner? After all, we are to seek God while He may be found….and grow in wisdom and stature……