Regular readers know that for some years now, I have advocated what might in some corners be considered acts of public littering. Back at the Fortress, I keep a bag full of the odds and ends which accumulate in the lives of active Catholics. These include the myriad of newsletters, booklets, etc., which always seem to find their way into your hands or mailbox. I try to remember to stuff a couple of these things in my pockets when I head out, and then keep my eyes peeled for an opportune time and place to leave these things where someone might come across them.
Not being naïve, I suspect that most of the time these things end up in the trash, unread. This is not like a castaway putting a message in a bottle complete with contact information, so that at some future point the sender learns his message has been received and understood. For that matter, nor is it like a blog post or podcast, where feedback, retweets, and reposts let you know that you have a struck a chord with someone else.
Today, however, was not “most of the time”.
This morning on the way in to work, I left a copy of the song sheet from Sunday Mass underneath my seat on the bus. When I got up to head to the door shortly before my stop, a rather dirty, emaciated woman in a disheveled wig, moved toward my abandoned seat. As she sat down she spotted the paper, and picked up.
From behind my sunglasses I was able to watch her unfold the sheet and read the top. My parish prints the Introit, i.e. the selection from the Psalms that is sung before Mass begins, on the top of the Sunday song sheet. For this past Sunday, the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, the selection happened to be from Psalm 27 (known to my musical readers as the “Exaudi, Domine”):
Exaudi, Domine, vocem meam, qua clamavi ad te. Adiutor meus esto, ne derelinquas me, neque despicias me, Deus salutaris meus.
O Lord, hear my voice, for I have called to you; be my help. Do not abandon or forsake me, O God, my Savior!
The woman read the Introit slowly, and smiled a wide smile, one marked by many missing teeth. She then looked skyward and did a big fist-pump, like one might do when scoring a winning cross-court shot. After which she carefully folded the sheet in half, opened the shoulder bag she was carrying, and tucked the sheet inside.
Now: the reader will please take pains to note that this really has nothing to do with me. I did not type the song sheet, let alone write the Psalm. I also do not know whether the woman in question was rejoicing because the words printed on the paper meant something to her, or whether she was simply happy to find a piece of paper. I like to think the former. Yet the fact that I was given the incredibly rare opportunity to witness this moment made me realize two important things.
First, adopting a policy of constructive littering is a good thing. Even if the message ends up in the recycle bin, as it would have anyway in your home or office, why not give those handouts and church bulletins a second chance at a useful life? Doesn’t it make sense to at least put it out for someone else to examine, before it returns to the vat of wood pulp from whence it came?
Second, and more importantly, we need to get on board with the idea that we have to cooperate with God’s Will, not ignore or rail against it. While instinctively we all know this to be true, we forget it so often that it bears repeating: God can work through anyone. I am the greatest of sinners, and yet for some reason I was permitted to act as His instrument, to reach someone who desperately needed to hear from Him today. This is both incredibly humbling, in that it makes me realize what a selfish turd I am, and yet at the same time it is deeply edifying, to see the Holy Spirit reaching the life of someone else, who so desperately needs encouragement, through my almost casual action.
Even if you don’t live in a big city, gentle reader, take public transportation, or get out very much, consider the possibility of engaging in sensible acts of vandalism such as this, when you can. Please do not go tagging graffiti about God on other people’s property, or carving “St. Michael the Archangel kicks arse!” on the back of your seat on an airplane: I’m not going to represent you in court on that one. Yet from amidst the clutter you accumulate in your spiritual life, I urge you to find ways to turn what you might now consider trash, into a treasure for someone else.