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To Salvage Everything (March 2021)

Dear Friends

Jenny and I had a lovely experience a few days ago (or longer – depends when you read this!). We joined an online retreat run by the Ammerdown Centre, Radstock, Somerset. It was led by Malcolm Guite, priest, poet and folk musician. The topic was ways in which prayer can be poetry and poetry can be prayer. Fabulous!

It got off to an amazing start when Malcolm walked us through a poem by Seamus Heaney, “Station Island XI.” There is something glorious about having someone who is passionate about something sharing a bit of their passion with you, don’t you think? The cook who doesn’t just teach us a recipe, but shares a delight in the preparing and the sharing that turns the simplest food into a banquet. The gardener who has you bending close to take in the wonder of the catkin unfurling from the branch. The child breathlessly telling you the story of finding that conker and also the lady bird. Wonderful!

So it was with Heaney’s poem. I could write a lot about it but will spare you. Let me just reflect very briefly about a couple of lines Heaney writes. He’s remembering the experience of going to confession (being brought up a Roman Catholic). And he reaches for a way of describing all it might mean to say sorry and brings us:
“…the need and chance
To salvage everything…”

I just find that the most beautiful way of describing all that confession and forgiveness are. Sunday by Sunday, and many times between, we pray. Saying the Lord’s Prayer places us firmly into the realm of confession: “Forgive us… as we forgive…” Heaney captures for me in these seven words a universe of feeling and of wisdom and of theology. I need to do this; to come and say I am far from perfect and that I am truly sorry. I need to be able to say it within myself, or it will never be more than a show. I need to be able to say it to those I hurt. I need to be able to say it to God. I need to believe I can confess and I can be forgiven.

But there is also a chance to do this. There really is a chance, again and again, to admit that all is not well within and with me and to discover that confession can be real just as forgiveness and absolution are real.

Confessing is not just personal but is also corporate. We do it, often, together in worship. There are sins and brokenness that are shared and that we find ourselves caught up in. We can’t step out of history and pretend that Black Lives Matter has nothing to do with the realities, amongst other things, of a Transatlantic slave trade partly run from right where we are.

We can do our bit to care for God’s creation, but can also confess that much of how the world works for us hurts creation and keeps others in poverty. There is a need. There is a chance.

But it is those final words that most entirely captivate me: “To salvage everything.” Nothing, not one thing, is beyond the scope and possibility of salvation. And as we travel on through Lent, perhaps this is another way to understand all that Christ has achieved for us through his life, death, resurrection and ascension. He has come to salvage everything from our broken world and our broken lives. Salvage is needed because there are broken things, dirty things, shattered things, discarded things. But salvage is possible because God’s love is so determined and God’s grace is so constantly welcoming.

I think I might stick these words up on our fridge to be reminded of them every day. Maybe these don’t do anything for you. What words would you use as your deepest inspiration and your most outrageous joy?

With my prayers for your Lent