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Issue Date:  January 14, 2005

Wonderful spam! Lovely spam! Eternal spam!


You can’t call yourself a Catholic until you’ve wondered why God doesn’t send e-mail. After all, God does have a Web site. It’s called creation. Creation has links to everything. All God’s most personal details are there on the Web site, if you know how to look. The church is supposed to be God’s search engine. It is meant to help us find our way around the Web site.

God does not send e-mail because God is merciful. And wise. God knows there is too much e-mail happening already. Once upon a time, people began a day at the office with a cup of coffee and a quick chat about the news and traffic. There is no time left for such niceties. Workers now have to get down to the pressing task of deleting from their computers the overnight accumulation of spam.

When you think about it, spam is a bit like grace. Nobody knows where it comes from or why. But the minute you make the slightest positive response, you get a whole lot more.

The difference is that grace is helpful.

A typical morning’s spam for me will include six urgent offers of something financial and another six of something medical. The financial ones tend to assume that I’m a lot better off than I really am; the medical ones assume that I’m worse off. A few spams are both medical and financial. These are the ones that offer either investments for a better life or cheaper drugs. Then there are spam messages that are pure gobbledygook. Spam is “maps” spelled backward. Maps help you figure out where you are; spam is the opposite.

Getting rid of spam has become part of my morning offering. For a few minutes when I sit down to work, I try to place the efforts of the coming day in a broader context. I tell myself that all the things I’m about to get worked up about in the hours ahead are only a tiny part of all the things the human family will be doing this day. I ask for the grace to do my best and the wisdom to know my best is important, but not overly important. I ask that my work will be, this day, one of the ways in which God shows love to the world.

As I am dwelling on such matters, I delete pesky e-mails. This is a task that can be done by rote, occupying hands that want to be doing something already, so my mind can be still for a little while before it too gets the fidgets. For some people, rosary beads have the same function. They enable the mind to be quiet by giving the busy part of it something to play with while the rest rests. The old morning offering spoke of “the prayers, works, joys and sorrows of this day.” It had the sense that each day was a new enterprise and that God would be doing things today never done before. Getting rid of e-mails reminds me of that: There is plenty of meaningless junk that gathers in my head, stuff that is better dragged to the trash. God needs a bit of memory to run in. A big part of letting God work is knowing how to forget.

At first sight, grace can look like spam. A few days ago, I almost deleted a message that was tagged simply “today.” Such banality, I thought, could only be spam. But I opened it and found a message from a friend saying he was remembering to pray for something I had asked him to pray for a few weeks before but had myself forgotten. I was quite touched, not to mention grateful. It dawned on me that God does not send e-mail because God gets other people do the e-mailing for him. So now I am playing a game of sending jokes and prayers to people disguised as spam, blessings with things like #45gr08ac987e@@ in the subject box. If you look twice, grace is in there alongside all the junk.

Michael McGirr is the former editor of Australian Catholics and publisher of Eureka Street, both of which emanate from Jesuit Publications in Melbourne. His book Things You Get For Free was published in the United States by Grave Atlantic in 2003.

National Catholic Reporter, January 14, 2005

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