“Chaos: A Gift from the Divine, or the Work of the Devil?”
The definition of chaos refers to lack of order or lack of intentional design and is often perceived as shadows and darkness. How can we turn the darkness of Chaos into a gift of Light?
Speaker: Rev. Chris Kell
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When available, a revised transcript of this week’s talk is provided below for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Prayers, readings, and songs from this week’s service are also provided below.
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“Chaos: A Gift from the Divine, or the Work of the Devil?”
Good morning. Today is the eighth and last day of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights. As you may know, Hanukkah is an eight-day observance that remembers the Jewish people’s struggle for religious freedom. According to Jewish belief, it marks the day on which the great miracle of oil occurred, and is a particularly special day because it encapsulates all of Hanukkah.
In Christianity, today is the second Sunday of Advent. According to tradition, Advent is a season of waiting and a time to prepare our hearts to receive the birth of the Christ child. The second candle in the Advent wreath is called the Bethlehem candle, or the candle of peace. Lighting the candle marks the beginning of a week of reflection on what the future will bring. Advent is also referred to as a period of faithful waiting, not only for the miraculous birth of Jesus, but also for the peace on earth promised to us in the prophecies found in the Scriptures.
Yet, as we look around us today, we see anything but peace. We have a new strain of Covid threatening us, as well as the threat of disastrous climate changes. Civil unrest continues, along with shootings and rising crime rates. War, poverty, homelessness, suicides, and dysfunctional politics are just a few of the chaotic conditions we are experiencing today. The world, it seems, is sinking into a chaotic abyss.
Chaos. Is it A Gift from the Divine, or the Work of the Devil? The definition of chaos refers to lack of order or lack of intentional design, and is often perceived as bringing shadows and darkness to the world. In Greek Mythology, Chaos was the first created being; the first of the primordial gods to emerge at the dawn of creation. Personified as a female, Chaos was a shadowy realm of mass and energy from which much of what is powerful in the world (and mostly negative and dark) would appear in later myths and stories.
The folks at Merriam-Webster tell us that the word chaos derives from a Greek word meaning “chasm” or “void.” In ancient Greece, Chaos was originally thought of as the abyss or emptiness that existed before things came into being; later, the word chaos was used to refer to a specific abyss: the abyss of Tartarus, the underworld. Tartarus was a dungeon of torment and suffering in Greek mythology, described by the Greek poet Hesiod as dismal, dank, and a place of decay.
Today, again according to Merriam-Webster, the most common uses of chaos denote either confused disorganization or a state of utter confusion. It often implies an undertone of darkness, negativity, and sometimes even evil, especially in literature. Today’s use of the term “chaos” by the media often suggests that something is seriously out of kilter and perhaps even on the verge of collapse. Novelist Gore Vidal described it perfectly when he said, “At any given moment, public opinion is a chaos of superstition, misinformation and prejudice.”
Yet, according to professor John Briggs and physicist F. David Peat, chaos is more than the messiness of mere chance or utter dark confusion. In their book Seven Life Lessons of Chaos, which is a holistic exploration of chaos physics, they say that “nature uses chaos in remarkable ways to create new entities, shape events, and hold the Universe together.” They claim that chaos is subtle, and more than the common idea of a jumbled mass of confusion. In their words,
The scientific term “chaos” refers to an underlying interconnectedness that exists in apparently random events. Chaos science focuses on hidden patterns, nuance, the “sensitivity” of things, and the “rules” for how the unpredictable leads to the new. It is an attempt to understand the movements that create thunderstorms, raging rivers, hurricanes, . . . and complex patters of all sorts, from river deltas to the nerves and blood vessels in our bodies. . . . chaos is both death and birth, destruction and creation.
Weather patterns are a perfect example of Chaos Theory. We can usually predict weather patterns pretty well when they are in the near future, but as days pass, more factors influence the weather, and it becomes practically impossible to predict what will happen. Another example is a pinball machine: the ball’s movements are precisely governed by gravitational laws yet the final outcome is unpredictable.
As an example of how chaos is all around us, imagine yourself sitting by a river. As you sit there, you begin to notice that the water is simultaneously steady and predictable in its progression as it follows its natural course, yet ever-changing as the current generates complex shapes and designs in the water as it flows along. Sometimes the water moves slowly, gradually eroding its banks; sometimes the river is a raging torrent, causing untold destruction.
But as we think more about this stream, we can see that it is inseparable from the other ecosystems to which it is connected: myriad animals and plants drink from its waters; the twigs, leaves, and seeds that litter the surface are carried to new locations to feed the soil; the water itself is used to nourish our crops as well as our bodies. The river is an ecosystem interconnected with both the life of the Earth and her inhabitants.
Similarly, each of us as an individual is inter-connected to the systems of nature, society, and thought that surround and flow through us. We live within movements constantly affecting each other and creating unpredictable chaos at many levels, like the stock market and ordinary street traffic. Yet within this same chaos we find the order and patterns we need to navigate and function in our daily lives.
Today, chaos is evolving from a scientific theory into a cultural phinomenon that allows us to question some of our most cherished assumptions and encourages us to ask new questions about reality and where we are going; questions that acknowledge that we are not alone. Chaos teaches us that we do not live in some abstract perfection, but in a pulsing, vibrant, ever-changing world.
Chaotic times can push us into radical new ways of thinking and experiencing reality. It is as much about what we can’t know as it is about what we think we know. It’s about letting go, discovering new paths, and celebrating the magic and mystery of the Universe.
The inevitability and essential nature of chaos has been recognized since ancient times. Aristotle understood chaos as something that exists independently of things, and without which nothing can exist. Roman sage and poet Ovid believed that change is the only constant in our world, the one thing of which we can be certain. And the great Chinese military strategist and philosopher Sun Tzu wrote, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” All these great philosophers knew that if you have no chaos in your life, you are not growing, because growth requires change; therefore, growth needs chaos.
To understand how chaos changes us and leads to new growth, just think about how the ongoing pandemic is challenging the way we go about everyday living, both individually and as a society; how it has emphasized and led to new dialogue about human vulnerability, our capacity to think and act as a global community, and how we must prepare for the future together for our continued survival.
We cannot deny that chaos has invaded our lives, and that the symptoms of cultural disorder affect us all. We are experiencing a transition from orderly to chaotic times, and can be seen within the uncertainty and fear many people feel in their lives.
Humans love order and balance, and because we are primarily orderly beings, we work towards minimizing chaotic periods as much as possible. Yet, although most people instinctively know how to behave in times of social order and are guided by social rules, when experiencing chaotic times and problems in a culture with what Briggs and Peat call a “mechanical perspective,” that is, a culture based on scientific dualism and separatism, people will desperately grab for any social order, including negative order, authoritarianism, anyone powerful enough to demand attention, and sometimes . . . even violence.
Briggs and Peat tell us that:
. . . our traditional mind-set has focused on social, political, and ecological problems as lying outside ourselves. As a result, we try to overcome problems by conquest or negotiation, which has the effect of reinforcing our perception of inherent separation. From deep within this mind-set springs the violence that today dominates much of our consciousness.
A mechanical perspective that sees the world and ourselves as no more than a collection of externally related parts blocks the clarity of our vision.
The seeds of a dualistic, objectified way of seeing the world and its problems – science vs religion, logic vs intuition, mechanism vs nature – were planted in the late Middle Ages and gained momentum in the 15th century during the Renaissance period. Before the Renaissance, consciousness referred to what people knew together, in community as an organic whole.
Since that time, the concept of consciousness as an individualistic characteristic and the belief that humans are fundamentally separate individuals became the norm. Man was the measure of all things and the predestined overseer of the natural world. Nature became objectified and externalized, subject to scientific investigation, experiment, and management. Spirituality became the purview of the church, overwhelmed by doctrine and hierarchy. This mechanistic paradigm continues today, but fortunately is being challenged with a new worldview: chaos theory.
Briggs and Peat call this new paradigm “Chaotic Wholeness”, a world of holistic, self-organized chaotic systems within systems. They believe that within the cosmos, chaos and wholeness are entwined.
They say that since the time of the Renaissance, we have focused on our existence as isolated individuals. Yet, underneath our feelings of isolation and our loneliness as separate individuals vibrates a sense of belonging and interconnection to the whole world. Their concept of chaotic wholeness recognizes the intrinsic value of both the natural and spiritual worlds as well as the mechanistic benefits of science and industry. Their belief is that “an encounter with the terrible unknown of chaos can bring with it the apparently paradoxical feeling of an intimate, transcending faith or trust in a nurturing cosmos.”
Taking that thought even further, Rabbi Rav Berg, a noted Kabbalah scholar, teaches us that
. . . in the search for a world without violence and chaos, [effecting change] requires a complete overhaul of the way we perceive things. It is our spirit within us, our consciousness that determines the visible and observable world that we experience.
Experiencing solidarity with the whole universe is about freeing ourselves from the chronic habit of thinking that we’re just disconnected fragments. It’s about moving from an emphasis on the isolated self, from the consciousness of what we only know individually, to the consciousness of what we also know together. From individual competition, to collaboration; from obsessive focus on control and prediction, to a sensitivity toward emergence and change through which the whole is expressed.
Chaos inherently is neither good nor bad. Chaos stimulates, intuition, music, art, inventions – creativity of all kinds. But too much chaos, and we descend into disorder, confusion, the shadows and darkness of the void.
Chaos helps us better appreciate order. In fact, chaos and order go hand in hand. Without chaos there is no order. Similarly, without order there is no chaos. Both systems depend on our perspective and how we use them.
Order can be either good or bad. Order is logic, science, patterns, laws and rules. It is easy to make things orderly, however, with too much order everything will work properly but initiative will wither. Too much order leads to stagnation and death of the spirit.
But, if you allow chaos to take over, order will collapse. Once things collapse, people also fall apart. That’s where chaos comes in; it shakes us up and makes up re-evaluate our lives and direction.
A well-balanced state of chaos and order is very difficult to manage at the same time. Achieving balance in our lives is a lifelong task; an ongoing, ever-unfolding journey through the maze of chaos and order, that requires patience, compassion, and acceptance of ourselves in the process. And even then, sometimes the bottom unexpectedly and callously falls out from under us. When that happens, when our reality as we know it changes, or even disappears altogether, we are suddenly pulled back into the present moment, forced to pay attention to our inner voice and change the way we think about reality.
And that is the gift of chaos.
Chaos and order are the ebb and flow, the give and take of life. They are a mutual exchange of energy and stasis; of light and dark; of a life full of bright potential, and one of gloomy shadows. Chaos is disorder according to plan; out of chaos we create order and discover endless possibilities. The purpose of chaos is to teach us that all life is interconnected, to show us how to grow from the dark into the light.
Friedrich Nietzsche said, “One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.”
Chaos’ gift to us is to teach us how to find the light even in the midst of darkness; to help us give birth to a dancing star.
About Rev. Christine Kell
Rev. Chris Kell is an Interfaith/Interspiritual Minister, an ordained graduate of One Spirit Interfaith Seminary, a graduate of the Priestess Emergence Process, and a Certified Life Success Consultant. She has a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies, with concentrations in Women’s Studies and Small Group Communication, and post-graduate studies in Feminine Spirituality. Rev. Chris has a deep appreciation for the aspirations of the human spirit. She has been fortunate in discovering how nurturing and supportive a positive environment can be, how it encourages spiritual strength and expands the possibilities for living a good life. Her goal is to be a catalyst for others in envisioning and discovering for themselves a spiritually enriched life. She can be reached at Rev.ChristineKell@gmail.com.
Today’s reading comes from the book Neuro-dharma: New Science. Ancient Wisdom, and Seven Practices of the Highest Happiness by Rick Hanson, PhD.
Imagine seeing a mountain pond. Breezes and storms can send waves moving across it, yet the pond as a pond is unmoving.
The mind is like a pond, whose surface is awareness, and whose depths open into timelessness. Worldly winds blow and stir up thoughts and feelings that ripple across it, but eventually they settle down and it’s quiet again –– and all the while, the pond itself is still. As you go through your day, be aware of spaciousness, edgelessness, and stillness. You can let go of any particular ripple and let go into being what you always are: whole, present, caring, peaceful, and full of possibility.
Be aware of your deepest longings and your highest purposes in this life. Let them live you and carry you along.
This service aired on December 5, 2021