Recently I was given to a fit of spring cleaning in my office. As with most spring cleanings, the day was marked by occasions of, “Oh my gosh, I wondered where that was,” “Where did I get that?”, “Why in the world did I keep that?” and a host of other on going revelations. Seven large garbage bags of …of…. stuff were collected and sent off for recycling or disposal. There was a point in which my office had the appearance of the primordial swirl of chaos – papers, books, boxes, bags, and all manner of things lay strewn around the floor, on the desk, and parked on and under chairs. All of it waiting for the imposition of order, the creative hand of the Spirit bringing beauty and symmetry, or the simple assignment to its place.
I am sure that a passer-by would have been stymied about what could possibly arise from such a chaotic beginning. But then chaos has many different meanings. The Greeks understood chaos as the primordial void. For the Roman poet Ovid, chaos was an unformed mass, where all the elements were jumbled up together in a shapeless heap. “Chaos” is held as a synonym of anarchy. Chaos (“19521 Chaos” to be precise) is also the name of trans-Neptunian planet out there in the Kuiper-belt. Just thought you would want to know.
In Mathematics, Chaos theory is the field of study that examines the behavior of dynamic systems that are highly sensitive to initial conditions—a response popularly referred to as the butterfly effect. A butterfly flaps its wings in China and on most days, nothing much happens beyond the butterfly fluttering by. But, on one day, the flapping winds lead to tornados in Kansas. Small differences in initial conditions yield widely diverging outcomes for such systems. This is the challenge of prediction and forecasting. Such systems are known as deterministic chaos, or simply chaos. The theory was summarized by Edward Lorenz as, “Chaos: When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.” That is, a butterfly flaps and we mostly know what will happen, but…then we find our office is in a condition that seems as though the tornado came right through it.
Our lives can be like my office during spring cleaning – seemingly chaos, disorder, and only suitable for disposal. We might catch ourselves thinking, “Who would possibly want this mess I have made of my life and opportunities.” We only hear the first part of the Lorenz theorem: the present determines the future. But if anything, we are people of Hope who believe the Spirit, just as in the beginning of creation (Gen 1), hovered over the chaos and from it brought order, beauty, symmetry, and the simple assignment of the true place in the world.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation can be like spring cleaning, when the Spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation comes – not to clean up the messes we have made, but to reset the initial conditions of our lives so that the present does not determine the future. In God’s love we may witness order and beauty arising from the chaos of our lives.
Here is the time between Lent and Advent. Might it not be time for a little spring cleaning of the chaos of life? What awaits is beauty, order, grace, and forgiveness.