The writing on the wall
“Life is a struggle. Let’s be kind to one another.”
This isn’t a proclamation from a homily but a spirited note from a surprising source. I saw it recently — inscribed in calligraphy on the wall of a restroom in the Subaru dealership in Hardeeville.
The Holy Spirit speaks through the words of Sacred Scripture, sacramental rites, papal encyclical, magisterial documents, and the testimonies of saints. True. But the Spirit can also speak through the most ordinary things. A casual remark, a billboard, or even the silver writing on a white wall can stop us short and impress a lesson on us.
Poet and mystic Caryll Houselander has commented that the Holy Spirit worked in the life of the Blessed Virgin in everyday circumstances and household routines. Yes, the annunciation by Gabriel was extraordinary, but most of Mary’s life was spent going about the duties of a wife and mother — cooking, fetching water, doing laundry, meeting neighbors. Houselander has spoken of the Advent and Christmas seasons as times when we celebrate “the wedding of the Spirit of Wisdom and Love with the dust of the earth.” We are prompted to recall that the Lord and Giver of Life (as we refer to the Spirit in the Creed) is engaged in the grit of earthly life. Author Kathleen Norris has called love-sparked yet humdrum things the “quotidian mysteries” in which we live and grow.
So, it seems reasonable to expect and acknowledge that an anonymous observation painted on a wall can strike at the heart just as readily as a quote from St. Basil can. Thus, on the morning before a drive to Greenville, I get a call to charity: writing on a wall near the spot where auto mechanics poke around my car. I’m reminded that there are alternatives to the uncivil discourse which afflicts our whole society and the impatient grumblings that accompany commerce.
At a time of year when resolutions are rife, a reminder simply to be kind brings the shudder of prophetic truth. We can counter hate speech and angry postings on social media by resolving to follow my Mom’s maxims about holding the tongue when you’re about to spew. Familiar tragedies — a synagogue shooting, a journalist killed, a resurgence of racism, starvation, refugees’ desperation, abortions and more abortions — all start somewhere. Where they seem to start first and foremost is in unkind hearts.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminds us that sin isn’t simply a matter of the most egregious acts: murder, adultery, vengeance. It has roots in anger, lust, grudge-bearing. A little kindness can rein in the gallop of vice. Kindness invites us to step out in self-forgetfulness. It asks us to be attentive to the other. It charges us to be merciful and generous. It reminds us that life is indeed a struggle and that the beneficiaries of kindness may be struggling in ways that we would never guess. “Be kind” is a Spirit-prompt and even a redemptive resolve in a broken, God-forgetful world.
Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM, is the Secretary for Education and Faith Formation at the Diocese of Charleston. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.