Ron Rolheiser on Chaos and Order

August 16, 2012

Ron Rolheiser’s weekly post last week hit home with me as life feels completely chaotic, and I am yearning for some order and calm.  Perhaps, God has a bit in store for me during this period of chaos.  Rolheiser reminded me of the need for both Chaos and order.  Here’s his post:

We only live, only suspire
         Consumed by either fire or fire.

T.S. Eliot wrote those words and, with them, suggests that our choice in this life is not between calm and storm, but between two kinds of storm. He is right, of course, but sometimes it is good to vary the metaphor: We live in this world caught between two great gods, chaos and order. It is important to know that they are most different from each other.

Chaos is the god of fire, the god of fertility, of risk, of creativity, of novelty, of letting go. He is the god of dreams and brings what is idealistic, fantastic, and chaotic.  He is the god more worshipped by the liberal temperament. Most artists worship at his shrine [and MTV daily gives us superficial glimpses of him]. He is also the god of sleeplessness, the god of restlessness, and the god of disintegration. In fact, he works precisely by disintegration which is, itself, the foundation of novelty.

Order is the god of water, the god of prudence, of chastity, of common sense, of stability, of hanging on. He is the god of pragma. He likes systems, clarity, and a roof that doesn’t leak. He is more worshipped by the conservative temperament and few artists pay him homage. The business and ecclesiastical worlds, however, more than compensate for this. By and large, he their god. He is also the god of boredom, the god of timidity, and the god of fearfulness and rigidity. With him, you will never disintegrate, but you might suffocate. However, while he does not generate a lot of excitement, this god keeps a lot of people alive.

Chaos and order, fire and water, are very different gods. Both, however, demand the respect accorded a deity. Unfortunately, like all one-sided deities, each wants all of us and to give that submission is dangerous. Allegiance to either, to the radical exclusion of the other, not infrequently leads to a self-inflicted wound by bullet to one’s own head. When chaos reigns unchecked by order, moral and emotional disintegration soon unleash a darkness from which there is often no recovery. When order too totally dispels chaos, a certain self-annihilating virtue, posturing as God, drains life of all delight and possibility. It is dangerous to worship at only the one shrine.

Both gods are needed. The soul, love, the church, practical life, and the structures of society need the tempering that comes from both fire and water, order and chaos. Too much fire and things just burn up, disintegrate. Too much water and nothing ever changes, a suffocation sets in. Too much letting go and the sublimity of love lies prostituted; too much chastity and love shrivels up like a dried prune. No. Both gods are needed – in practical life, in romantic life, in ecclesiology, in morality, in business, and in government. Risk and prudence, MTV and Gregorian Chant – both contain some whisperings of God. It is not of small consequence that we should feel caught between the two.

To read the rest….

Becky is an Ignatian-trained spiritual director, retreat facilitator, and writer. She is the author of the Busy Lives and Restless Souls (March 2017, Loyola Press) and The Inner Chapel (April 2020, Loyola Press). She helps others create space to connect faith and everyday life through facilitating retreats and days of reflection, through writing, and through spiritual direction. With nearly twenty years of ministry experience within the Catholic Church, Becky seeks to help others discover God at work in the every day moments of people’s lives by utilizing St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises and the many gifts that our Catholic faith and Ignatian Spirituality provide.

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