Confession Time

I have a friend who believes that life is primarily composed of random events, mere coincidences.  I have other friends who see connections and hidden meanings in almost everything that happens.    

I am somewhere in the middle.  Much of my life seems ordinary and predictable.  But I admit to feeling a thrill when something happens that seems eerily connected to what I’m thinking about at the time.   

My life would probably be easier if I was firmly on one side of the debate—either everything that happens is random or there are moments in life that are strangely connected.  Certainly, the dilemma I faced this past week would have been easier to deal with if I wasn’t so stuck in the middle.

It all began when two small pieces of paper fell out of an old prayer book I’d had for years, something I picked up at a book sale. Yes, I buy odd books at sales, and I’m not saying that I’d ever given the prayer book more than a glance.  

I didn’t know those slips of paper existed until they fell out when I was straightening a bookshelf.  At the top of one of the slips, written in beautiful script, were the words “Easter 1995.” At the top of the other, written in the same handwriting, were the words “Easter 1997.”  

A quick glance told me that I was looking at lists of sins that the writer planned to confess to a priest.    

That was when I knew I was in the middle of a moral dilemma.  If events are random, my coming across the two lists was simply a coincidence, and the moral response would be to respect the privacy of the writer and not read any further.  The fact that I didn’t know the writer’s identity—she or he hadn’t signed the pages—or the fact that the two slips of paper were written almost fifty years ago didn’t seem to give me permission to pry.

But then the other side of the debate made its case.  What if I were supposed to find those two slips of paper?  What if God, the universe, or life wanted to speak to me through those words? 

I sat with my moral dilemma for a few days.  In the end, I made a decision that some readers might dismiss as spiritual voyeurism and others will admit, if they are honest, that they’d do it in a similar situation.  

My thinking went this way.  If the writer’s name had been on either of the lists, I reasoned that the morally responsible decision would be to respect the person’s privacy and dispose of the lists unread.  

But the writer was anonymous.  Did that make a difference morally?  Then it hit me.  The issue wasn’t so much about the writer, but about me.  If I read the lists in order to peer into the soul of the writer, to focus on what she or he struggled with, that would be prying and immoral.  Reading the lists would only be moral if I let the words on the papers peer into my soul, and speak to me about my struggles.  

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that the deeply honest person who wrote those lists seemed to know me and know exactly what I needed to hear.  

I don’t know how much of what happens to us contains hidden connections and how much is pure coincidence.  What I do know is that last week, words on slips of paper found me—as if they’d been waiting nearly fifty years for me to straighten that bookshelf.