Dealing With Chaos

We hear it; we feel it; we want it: to bring order out of chaos. And often we can – with closets or cupboards, with schedules or desks or drawers. But with the bigger chaos – climate change, Covid, abortion and gun debate, immigration, polarization, there is a temptation to seek order in the many silos that provide quick and easy answers. Those silos – which usually become echo chambers, provide the illusion of order, because they keep pumping out messages that either deny the chaos or have a sure- fire method to fix it.

Instead of treating chaos as a threat, if not an adversary, there is a long-standing tradition to view chaos as an opportunity. “In the beginning”, the author of Genesis writes, “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep” (Genesis 1:2). It was chaos. No order. And out of that chaos came creativity. Now we can endlessly debate if and how God created the heavens and the earth, but those questions are a distraction from what is the fundamental message of this particular creation story: chaos begets creativity. Chaos can be generative. Chaos holds possibility. To my mind, that was and is God’s purpose – to foster creativity, and to impart to us the capacity to be co-creators in the unfolding of creation.

Like most, I have an ambivalent relationship with chaos. Most of the time, I avoid the chaos or try to fix it. And then feel some satisfaction when the desk is cleared and the closet is straightened out. And there are other times when I am almost addicted to chaos: when my schedule feels overwhelming or my thoughts run all over the place, or when I go down a psychic rabbit hole of disappointment and self-recrimination; and for the life of me can’t seem to bring myself out. And I just keep spinning and can’t stop. Order? Forget about it. It is psychological and chronological disorder; and those are just some of the dysfunctional ways I avoid the deeper chaos.

The first thing that God created out of the chaos was light: “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). The writer of John’s Gospel maintains that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5) Darkness can overwhelm. Psychological or spiritual darkness can seem unrelenting and paralyzing. But light, even the tiniest amount, can destroy darkness. For the scripture writers, and for people of faith over the generations, light is the manifestation of hope. Light shines in the darkness, in the chaos. Light doesn’t necessarily lead us out of the darkness and chaos, but can guide us through it.

Advent is a season of ascending light in the annual descending (in the northern hemisphere) of light. First one candle, then two, until all the Advent wreath candles are lighted. All of which is preparation for the “true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:9) That light came out of darkness, out of chaos. It brings creativity, which is a key ingredient of hope. Light shines in the darkness.

Christian author and activist Jim Wallis has written that ‘hope is believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the evidence change.’ When considering the evidence of the bigger chaos issues – it can feel like a darkness that stretches to infinity. No hope anywhere.

Light a candle. Let it become a symbol, if not a beacon, of hope. Let it expose the darkness – and the chaos. And generate some creativity. Lord knows we need it.

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