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When I was eight years old my mother took me into NYC at Christmas time to enjoy the sights, Rockefeller Plaza, Fifth Avenue and maybe do some shopping. As we debarked the train at Grand Central she told me that if we get separated just go to the information booth in the middle of Grand Hall of the station and wait for me there. If needed tell the man in the booth to ask for me. Sure enough, in the mad crush of people leaving the train I managed to get separated from her and I started to panic. I remembered what she said and I headed straight for the information booth. As I stood there and the wave of panic subsided I was amazed to see the chaos all around me. People hurrying from here to there. I saw nothing but chaos. But then as I stared into the crowd I began to see patterns emerge. Most people were headed for either the exits or the train gates. But then there was the crowd around the big departure board. There were the homeless who usually sat on the stairs, trying to keep warm. There were families coming and going. And then in the still center of it all was the round information booth, with people hanging around the edges looking for someone just as I was. There was in that moment, stillness, a blessing amidst the rush of the masses. A blessing in the chaos.
It turns out that this idea of waiting at the information booth is not an original idea. In fact, experiments have been done with people from around the world and if they know anything at all about NYC, know that if they have to meet somebody and don’t when or where to meet them in the city, 9 out of 10 people said they would meet their party at the information booth in Grand Central Station.
In the midst of the chaos that is New York, there are still points, touch points that act as blessings in our midst. Grand Central, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, the Empire State Building, the Plaza in front of the UN, St. John the Divine. It seems that no matter where chaos reigns, there are blessings of stillness in the midst of them all.
On Wednesday night I was sitting by the window of our cottage and watching the snow rage around us. This way it blew, then that way. I saw the drifts begin to build, then shift. I wondered if the drifts would be large enough to keep back the waters of the Sound should they crest the shore. I felt so blessed to be watching the snow and I said a prayer for all living beings who were in the midst of such a frigid chaos as this. My prayers broke through to a divine presence. I can’t explain it really. A feeling that angels of these long nights were working overtime in the chaos, perhaps they were even part of the chaos that was this storm.
In the Stillness from where I sat and prayed I could see and hear in the swirling of the winter storm patterns of possibility made and remade again. Snow dancing and reminding me, that there but for the grace of God go any of us, In this sweet madness
Oh this glorious sadness
That brings me to my knees
as Jena Jacob sang Sarah McLaclin Song In The Arms of the Angels last week.
From the chaos of sperm and egg and chance and love and maybe even destiny, each one of us is created, as we wait for the re-creation of life and light so magically placed in the nativity story. We are born, we grow up, we choose others to share our lives with us, careers, families, failures and small victories against the storm of time and events that makes order of us into the story of each of us. This is a miracle itself. Just like the storm.
Making order of our chaos, blessings of light out of the darkness of the universe, is the primal story of Genesis of course. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” God made order out of chaos but that doesn’t imply that chaos was wrong. The law of entropy states that the universe is always moving towards chaos, in fact, right now the planets and stars are racing apart. This very home we call the earth will someday suffer the heat death. We all will die and our atoms will be scattered again. Chaos is the norm, the very source for all creation. God couldn’t have made light if there wasn’t’ a dark to make it in.
Often chaos is seen as a feminine power. Not in the sense that the feminine leads to disorder but in the sense that the feminine is the reality in which life is created, in which beauty is created. The feminist theologian Catherine Keller in her book The Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming convinced me of the generative power of chaos this way: “Christian theology … created this ex nihilo at the cost of its own depth. It systematically and symbolically sought to erase the chaos of creation.” In other words, God didn’t make the world in the Genesis story from nothing but from the feminine power of the deep and the dark. I can’t emphasize this enough. The patriarchy that has dismissed women as unruly and overly emotional fails to understand the primordial power of the dark and deep, the storm and the night.
And we have learned in modern physics that chaos is not as random as we might think.
James Gleick in his work Chaos: Making a New Science says that Chaos is a study of the probability of events as much as its unruliness: “Ecologists explored the rise and fall of gypsy moth populations. Economists dug out old stock price data and tried a new kind of analysis. The insights that emerged led directly into the natural world—the shapes of clouds, the paths of lightning, the microscopic intertwining of blood vessels, the galactic clustering of star”
It’s known as the Butterfly effect: The flapping of a butterflies wings in China can effect a gale in Canada. The smallest events have a cumulative and as of yet, unmeasured effect on all creation. Buddhists call this “co-dependent arising”; all events are the result of all other events. This has a technical name according to Gleick: “sensitive dependence on initial conditions. And sensitive dependence on initial conditions was not an altogether new notion. It had a place in folklore: “For want of a nail, the shoe was lost; For want of a shoe, the horse was lost; For want of a horse, the rider was lost; For want of a rider, the battle was lost; For want of a battle, the kingdom was lost!””
The revolution in physics now is what was once considered a dead end. Chaos has a point, or at least a series of points in that it is only from the chaos, the dark and deep void of reality, that creation can begin and that friends, especially now is how we are going to see a new reality break like the Christmas Star over our world next year.
The chaos of this pandemic, this season, this year of darkness, may very well yield a blessing, a still point in how we relate to one another and treat our planet.
Just look at zoom, this medium we are using right now. That we are all able to be on here at all is amazing beyond belief. Sure we had issues, but in a matter of months we are more connected now to one another than ever before. We have transcended space in the chaos of this pandemic and made a virtual but no less real space in the time we spend together. This then is our new creation, an order of connection that had eluded us before now brings us together. Then, imagine how much richer this will be when we come together in person AND stream to others. Talk about light!
And then there is our poor beleaguered planet. Heating up faster than ever before. Somehow with the pause this pandemic chaos gave us we will learn not only how to treat others faster than before but we can truly turn the energy we are spending to stay alive to the energy to keep our planet alive. That is the blessing I see from all this. We will wake up from climate change denial to smell the coffee of real change. This terrible year, coming to this solstice close, can be, and I think will be, a new beginning.
This is the revolution friends. You are in it right now. And just like science we don’t need to wait for permission. We can take the promise of a savior’s birth and turn it into a movement. I will have so much more to say about this after the New Year. But hang on, little tomatoes, hang on.
As Gleick said of the paradigm of chaos and its meaning: “A new science arises out of one that has reached a dead end. Often a revolution has an interdisciplinary character—its central discoveries often come from people straying outside the normal bounds of their specialties… The theorists themselves are not sure whether they would recognize an answer if they saw one. They accept risk to their careers. A few freethinkers working alone, unable to explain where they are heading, afraid even to tell their colleagues what they are doing… Every scientist who turned to chaos early had a story to tell of discouragement or open hostility. Graduate students were warned that their careers could be jeopardized if they wrote theses in an untested discipline, in which their advisors had no expertise… Older professors felt they were suffering a kind of midlife crisis, gambling on a line of research that many colleagues were likely to misunderstand or resent. But they also felt an intellectual excitement that comes with the truly new. Even outsiders felt it, those who were attuned to it…. Others felt that for the first time in their professional lives they were witnessing a true paradigm shift, a transformation in a way of thinking….To some the difficulty of communicating the new ideas and the ferocious resistance from traditional quarters showed how revolutionary the new science was. Shallow ideas can be assimilated; ideas that require people to reorganize their picture of the world provoke hostility.” (Ibid Galeik)
As I was sitting there in my window seat watching that stormy chaos rage across the land and sea, I realized what a miracle it is to be alive in this time, this final advent of awakening before a new light, a new dawn. Storms come and go. Life goes on amid the chaos, no, because of the chaos of sea and light and stars and life and yes, even death.
Just as I shared with you in the meditation, we pray in each breath, we pray the very first time we breathe and with the very last breath we exhale. There is chaos, yes, but the blessing of living can only come from that chaos. This is what the season of light, the promise of the savior means to all of us.
Mark Nepo relates it this way in his book Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: “I met Marco, a careful and patient photographer from Santa Clara. When asked what surprised him during the last year, his voice began to quiver. He’d witnessed two breaths that had changed his life. His daughter’s first breath. Then his mother’s last breath. As his daughter inhaled the world, it seemed to awaken her soul on Earth. As his mother exhaled her years, it seemed to free her soul of the world. These two breaths jarred Marco to live more openly and honestly. He took these two breaths into his own daily breathing and quickly saw their common presence in everyone’s breathing. Is it possible that, with each inhalation, we take in the world and awaken our soul? And with each exhalation, do we free ourselves of the world, which inevitably entangles us? Is this how we fill up and empty a hundred times a day, always seeking the gift of the two breaths? Perhaps this is the work of being.” (Mark Nepo)
Perhaps finding blessings is the work of being between each breath, including our first and last. I close with this poem from Jan Richardson:
To all that is chaotic in you,
let there come silence.
Let there be a calming
of the clamoring,
a stilling of the voices that
have laid their claim on you,
that have made their
home in you,… Let it be. Let it be. Amen.