Saving & Being Savable

The sun was out and a stiff breeze blew as I crossed the bridge to the library to pick up some books for the weekend. I noticed the flags were flying at half-mast and in a flash remembered that it was the 3.11 memorial day for the East Japan disaster of 2011.

I was out walking that afternoon and this, riverside. To be in the presence of water – life giver & death dealer – seemed right. My spontaneous prayer was a quiet walking meditation along an enchanted, little-used path that touched, as I was capable of sustaining the images, on catastrophes of scale utterly beyond my understanding.

In my mind, somewhere, somehow, I re-see the roiling black waves, living nightmares, looming over seaside towns up east, insatiable, leaving profound devastation in their wake. Is this a face of God? The elemental face of the Deep, beyond our human ken?

In my body, I register the way the light shines, the luminous jade colour of the riverbed, and I catch sight of the little placidly paddling nutria pup hoving into the sparkles under the overhanging boughs, beside the scrubby, sun-bleached pale yellow reeds. Easy to feel the Presence here. Even to exalt.

*

Miroslav Volf recently tweeted:

 Our task is not to save the world; only God can do that. 

 Our task is 

 to protect and enhance flourishing life 

 in a world we cannot save.

 

I was struck, and a little annoyed (feeling I should know), by the question: What does ‘save’ mean here? [1]. Keep the same? Rescue? (From what/whom? For what/who?) Is the message emancipatory, hopeful? Something about limits? Does it have anything to do with its Latin roots in ‘health’ (salvus) or its other cognate, ‘holiness’? Is the message meant to be anti-hero/anti-individualist, inviting a non-zero sum play, instead? [2] Not, of course, that the positive task of protecting and enhancing the flourishing of life is for sissies. But, inescapably, for me, at least, when I think about what it could mean to ‘save the world’, it is to that benighted figure from the myths, Sisyphus, that my mind goes.

I wondered, watching as much as I could, my collar soaked in tears, the deeply terrifying National Geographic-edited live footage of the disaster: What is saving for? Why save? What is worth saving? Is what is saved unchanged and/or unchanging? How does one live, being saved, with trauma? In certain lights the answers present with absolute clarity. One saves because one chooses Life. Perhaps what troubles me is the assertion that our work is not to save the world. That ‘the world’-whatever that means- cannot be saved, by us (be made to conform to our fantasies?) seems evident. On the other hand: who else is there, to meet it, as it is, in the vein of St.Teresa of Avila, but us?

*

Something Dame Ellen MacArthur said in a recent interview stuck in my brain: deep water is safer than shallow. This burrowed in as I read more about tsunami. When the conditions are bad, the advice goes, move either to higher ground or further away (inland or toward the horizon), or into deeper waters, the deeper, the better (it’s friction that increases the devastating power of the wave). [3]

There are times when it appears we can do things to be savable. Equally, there are times when we cannot, and we sink. It may be terrible this self-emptying, responding to what we do not choose, what we do not will for ourselves. To answer with surrender means a rejection of what we may have once imagined as true of saving and of safety. It is, essentially however, an expansion. A busting of limits. The submission represents, paradoxically, a leap, beyond, into the Unknown. The act of surrender moves us out of shallow waters, farther from the shore and into the deeps. Then what? I like to think, and hope, that the saving graces here continue to unfurl, even while they happen off the page, underground, in darkness, outside of the range of human comprehension.
Volf is right about one thing: while we can, let us choose Life, and in any way open to us, protect and enhance flourishing.

—-

[1] A quick look in a dictionary calmed me somewhat. It is a word with a lot of meanings.

[2] Robert Wright describes the non-zero sum game as the kind in which everyone’s interests are aligned, so that everyone wins or loses together. Wright argues that history tends towards more and more non-zero-sum co-operations and higher … levels of social complexity. See Alex Evans’ The Myth Gap, 41-2.

[3] I blush to think how closely this aligns with my reflexes where conflict is concerned. There is useful friction, we can agree, I think, and then there is the corrosive and ultimately destructive kind. Discernment advised!

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4 thoughts on “Saving & Being Savable

  1. The day I finally had time to read your post was March 22, which is World Water Day! I never heard about this before this year, and I thought it interesting, given the water images that you start out with, and the reference to the tsunami. Water represents all of Creation in our Orthodox Theophany celebrations, and given that Christ said He was the Living Water, I found that advice to Go Deep very evocative!

    Liked by 1 person

    • What beautiful connections you make, Gretchen! Thank you.

      Yes, I, too, was aware of World Water Day in a new way this year, thrilled, in particular, by the news that the New Zealand and Indian governments have given 3 rivers the status of Living Beings. It is very good, always, to choose life and this news was a sure sign of an expansion of love & awareness!

      Like

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