Saturday, November 24, 2007

Order and Chaos

MadPriest offers us an insightful quote from Mary Clara. Here's how it begins:

This is the first time it has been made completely clear to me that the schismatics' obsession with same-sex love is not about personal morality at all. It has to do with a perceived threat to cosmic order. In their view, the very 'nature of reality' is being profaned and violated by any sexual act other than one between fertile heterosexuals bent on procreation. The 'tear in the fabric of the Anglican Communion' actually represents for them a rending of the fabric of the universe.

In a certain sense I can understand this. I do believe that in the shape of our lives, even in small everyday acts, we can and should show respect for cosmic order and participate in God's plan as we understand it. Our relationships are symbolic, and by the way we tend them we can either contribute to chaos or help bring about the flourishing of God's reign...
Mary Clara goes on to make a very good point. Do go read the whole thing. However, although I agree in principle with what she has to say, the above paragraphs got me to spinning in a slightly different direction. A recent brief conversation with klady took me even further afield from Mary Clara's original point.

"...rending the fabric of the universe..." I think that is the phrase that got my attention. Let's talk about this "rending." Specifically, let's talk about the tension between "order" and "chaos" that I suspect is at the root of this "rending."

I think that chaos has gotten a bad reputation throughout history. Of course "order" is the obvious preference, as it represents what we "know." And by that knowledge, we feel we have some control over things. Chaos represents the unknown, and thus is the source of much fear, as we feel powerless to have any control over it.

I want to suggest that it is from chaos that springs all creativity, while order tends to routinize all things, and thus has a greater potential for stifling, if not killing, the spirit.

That's not quite right, of course, but it is a sufficient summary of my point, and counter-intuitive enough to get your atttention.

The truth is that creativity is born from the tension between order and chaos. My point is that chaos is not the enemy, but an integral part of the creative process.

To explain further, I have to delve into the realm of science, which is by no means my area of expertise. I hope those who are more scientifically inclined will correct my errors.

"Chaos Theory" is the term for the apparent lack of order in a system that would be expected to obey particular laws or rules. Probably the best known example of this is the "butterfly effect," introduced by Edward Lorenz in a paper he entitled ""Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly's Wings in Brazil set off a Tornado in Texas?" Lorenz stumbled across this concept while making weather predictions in which he simulated certain factors by inserting numbers from previous predictions. But he rounded off the numbers by three decimal points, while the computer based its forcasts on six decimal points. The forcasts were dramatically different from what they should have been. That miniscule change caused dramatically different results.

We think of chaos as randomness and a complete lack of order. What chaos theory suggests is that this is only apparent randomness, resulting from the complex interactions of many systems. In other words, the appearance of chaos is formed by our lack of knowledge of these interactions. There seems to be some order within chaos, as well as some chaos within order. The tension between order and chaos is not an "either/or" kind of relationship.

This brings us to Complexity Theory, which suggests that there is a transitional phase between order and chaos, in which the system is not rigid, yet not random either. An example might be the process of ice becoming water and then steam. Order moves to complexity which moves to chaos. It is this transitional stage between order and chaos where creation can occur. Or, to put it another way, in terms of human thought, it is when we let go of enough of our ordered thought to embrace chaos, but not enough that we have no foundation for thinking, that we can draw from the chaos a new thought.

There are some parallels with these ideas and how our human psyche functions. "Order" represents our conscious selves. "Chaos" represents the unconscious. Fearing our inability to properly control the unconscious inclines us to repress it. Once again, our automatic perception is that order is good and chaos is bad. But the more we repress the unconscious, the more we find ourselves on the verge of slipping into total chaos. It is through integration, through slowly bringing the unconscious into the light, that we discover our own creativity, and so become a complete person, no longer living in fear of our "dark side."

And then there are those "unexpected" daily occurances that disrupt our orderly lives. This is also an example of living in the tenion between order and chaos. There is an accident on the Parkway making us late for an appointment. An ill child forces us to cancel our evening plans. Such apparently random chaos is usually seen as always a negative thing. But isn't it as we deal with these unexpected situations that we expand our understanding not only of the world, but of ourselves? These are opportunities to dip into the that place of complexity between order and chaos and draw from it a new way forward.

I've wandered far enough, I suspect. So lets bring this all home again. Our Anglican tradition is often considered quite rigid when it comes to liturgy, confining ourselves to the time tested forms of worship contained within the Book of Common Prayer. However, we are also often accused of being too "fuzzy" when it comes to some of our responses to developments in this world. We live in the tension between order and chaos.

I think our current unpleasantness is, to some degree, a result of this tension. From the complexity of human systems (relationships), we have drawn out something new, and are attempting to give it form and order. There are those who champion order, and demand that all matters Anglican take on a rigid form. And there are those who champion chaos, refusing to acknowledge the authority of any restrictions. Of course, neither of these extremes will allow us to integrate a new understanding into our consciousness. It is out of the struggle between these two forces that something new is emerging. And for that, as painful as it may seem right now, I think we can be thankful.

The fabric of the universe is being rent asunder. Good. Because that fabric is made of the finite thoughts of limited beings, fashioned into a curtain to hide from us the Creator, whose glory will consume us if revealed all at once. We need the curtain, our very human reason, to protect us from being consumed. But I think sometimes it is beneficial for a corner of it to be torn away, so that we can glimpse the Creator, and so be reminded of who we are; finite beings straddling order and chaos, which are both a part of the creative process of a power greater than ourselves.

Holy art Thou, Lord of the Universe
Holy art Thou, whom nature hath not formed
Holy art Thou, the vast and mighty One
Lord of the light and the darkness.


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