by Father Mark Goldasich
My office at The Leaven was robbed recently.
It happened sometime after Easter. Since there wasn’t a paper that week, I didn’t come into the office until the Friday after Good Friday. That’s when I discovered that almost everything in my office was gone. The table there was cleared, as was the desk area around my computer.
The crook was very selective. He left my computer untouched, but grabbed every scrap of loose paper. Strangely, the recycling bin by my desk was practically overflowing with stuff that the robber apparently didn’t want.
The robbery was definitely an inside job. Knowing that I wasn’t going to be in for a few days, one of my staff — oh, let’s just call him Todd — decided to help me out of my disorganization by tidying things up a bit.
Anticipating a move like this sometime, I hung a tiny, tasseled pillow from the doorknob to my office that reads: “Please don’t clean up my mess. You’ll confuse me and screw up my world.” Like everyone else at The Leaven, he paid no attention to those words.
Honestly, my office looked fantastic. But it threw me for a loop. What my staff didn’t know is that I’ve secretly been conducting an experiment in the name of science. Although I’m actually a very neat, precise and incredibly organized person, I “let things go” at my Leaven office in order to gather concrete proof for a theory on productivity and creativity. In a Jan. 21, 2016, blog post on the Rodale’s Organic Life website, Chris Michel wrote an article entitled “The Surprising Health Benefits of Clutter.” Its subhead read: “Before you start purging, find out whether that messy desk is actually good for you.”
Taking that idea even further is a book by Tim Harford called “Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives.” In a review published on the book’s dust jacket, New York Times bestselling author Adam Grant wrote: “Harford shows that if you want to be creative and resilient, you need a little more disorder in your world. It’s a masterful case for the life-changing magic of cluttering up.”
Yes, I confess that I’ve been an anonymous colleague of Harford, providing him with empirical evidence for comments on the inside dust jacket that say that the book “celebrates messiness in our lives: why it’s important, why we resist it and why we should embrace it instead. Drawing from research in neuroscience, psychology and social science, as well as captivating examples of real people doing extraordinary things, Tim Harford explains that the human qualities we value — creativity, responsiveness, resilience — are integral to the disorder, confusion and disarray that produce them.”
Furthermore, messiness is actually essential to our life of faith. Could that be why Jesus himself is known as the Mess-iah? Didn’t he make a mess of things while he walked this earth? He messed with the minds of the religious leaders of his time, who had reduced faith to a mere following of seemingly endless rules. Jesus messed with those considered sinners and outcasts, people of little importance — tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, the poor — and brought them hope and healing.
He messed with people’s image of God as merely one who punishes sin “down to the third and fourth generation” by revealing a God of compassion, mercy and love. Jesus messed with all the boxes that people had placed God in and turned things upside down, where “[God] has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”
At World Youth Day 2013 in Brazil, Pope Francis encouraged participants to make a “mess.” Matthew Warner has fully embraced that idea in his little book “Messy & Foolish: How to Make a Mess, Be a Fool, and Evangelize the World.” There, he writes: “It’s time to make a mess. It’s time to change the world. And we are just the fools to do it.”
Todd — I mean, the unknown Leaven thief — has brought me back a box, chock full of my stuff. Slowly but surely, my office and its bare surfaces are getting back to “normal.” My physical clutter, I hope, is actually a reflection of my deep desire to make a significant mess in the world for the Lord.
We march through this season of Easter with our eyes set on Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit, that wind that shakes things up and, in a sense, brings holy chaos to order by shattering all the restrictions that we’ve placed on God.
That Spirit sends us, full of courage and joy and creativity, to disrupt our tired world as “mess-engers” of the good news of the kingdom.
May God bless this mess!