I am confessing this to you now
There is a face that haunts me.
I see it still twenty years on.
Fifteen foot in diameter,
made out of bare branches roughly lashed together,
it leaned against the side of the building
where we were staying, in the woods, by the river.
Its empty eyes saw everything we did
and its lop-sided grin commented sardonically
on the depth of our endeavours.
One evening, in a rush of puritanical zeal,
filled with the determination of righteousness,
that would not be denied,
and the exhilaration that comes from decisive action,
I dragged it from the wall, broke it up,
and burned it on our camp fire.
In my mind I was acting
to protect the precious purity of the place.
The face was wrong, from outside,
left by others, who did not properly appreciate
the spirit of the place.
Simplicity had been sullied, but was now restored.
I slept in peace that night,
but woke very early with a raging guilt.
I saw a group of innocent young people,
happily and enthusiastically working together
to create the face, and leaving it as a gift.
I saw them bringing their parents to see it,
and finding only a blank wall.
There was no way back for me.
The face was ashes, and the ashes were cold.
Guilt burned within me,
and would not be denied.
It drove me to leave my sleeping fellow sinners
(they hadn’t stopped me from the burning),
and take to the woods in search of a confessor,
who could take this burden from my being.
That was a wild ride:
the branches and the brambles that caught at me
were blurred in with the turmoil within;
the agony of wrong-doing that cannot be undone;
directionless desperation in the empty woods;
the terror of confession fighting the craving for release.
I found no confessors in the woods.
There was no-one to hear my sins,
and provide the forgiveness I craved.
The tidal wave of guilt that had flung me through the woods
reached its limit, and receded.
I washed up on a steep slope where,
amongst the oaks and the beeches,
I realised that I would always have to live
with the results of my actions.
If I wanted true peace
I would have to learn how to find forgiveness within myself.
Washed out, drifting back,
I found there was, as always,
a new fire to light in the ashes of the old,
and a new day to negotiate.