I’d heard about Chaos Theory, but really hadn’t done much study of it until the whole concept popped into my head last week when I was trying valiantly to focus enough to come up with a sermon while packing and getting ready to move at the same time.
According to the Fractal Foundation, “Chaos Theory is the science of surprises, of the nonlinear and the unpredictable. It teaches us to expect the unexpected. While most traditional science deals with supposedly predictable phenomena like gravity, electricity, or chemical reactions, Chaos Theory deals with nonlinear things that are effectively impossible to predict or control, like turbulence, weather, the stock market, our brain states, and so on.
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Linear systems have one cause and one effect. Non-linear systems are evident when one cause can have many different outcomes, or one outcomes may be the result of many different causes. These non-linear systems are also known as complex systems because they can’t be broken down into smaller pieces, analyzed and then reassembled with a full knowledge of the system. As Cheryl Chattfield, Phd, states, “A non-linear system requires a holistic approach in which the pattern of the behavior of the whole, not the individual parts, is significant. This is similar to the spiritual concept that everything is connected.”
One of the Principles of Chaos Theory is the Butterfly Effect. This gets its name from the concept that a butterfly flapping its wings at the right time and in the right place can start off a chain reaction that could result in a hurricane across the globe. It seems a little crazy, but it expresses the potential that unpredictable small changes could have in the big picture.
Unpredictablility is another principle of Chaos Theory that holds that complex systems have so many variables, that it is impossible to predict an absolute outcome.
Another principle states that this pattern of Order/Disorder is natural and expected. What feels like chaos, or disorder, will eventually return to a new order. We can’t predict what it is going to be, but we know that eventually something new will emerge.
So, I think there are two important spiritual lessons here:
ONE… yes, we are all connected! And even the smallest of actions can make a difference. While we like to apply this only to acts of kindness, or paying it forward, we need to recognize that unkind acts also have the ability to set off a chain of reactions. So, walking through our days with awareness is exceedingly important. When we cultivate awareness that the Divine is in, around and through all things I believe we’ll be more apt to respond to the chaos in the world with compassion, gratitude, generosity and kindness. Maybe it is as simple as asking ourselves if we can give people the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they’ve acted poorly because they’re stressed out and having a bad day. Maybe their life is in chaos and they can’t see a way out. Our one kind act may help them to breathe again, it may help them to be kinder to the people around them. But a negative attitude, or judgmental comment might just push them over the edge and they’ll end up going home and taking it out on their kid or partner.
There is a story of a teenage boy who was carrying a huge pile of books home from school one day when he got bumped around and all the books went flying. Another boy stopped to make sure he was OK, helped him pick up the books, then asked him where he lived and offered to help carry them home when he found out they lived close to each other. Come to find out the boy had so many books because he’d emptied his locker and was planning on killing himself. That one kind act caused him to think again and he didn’t do it.
TWO… we will get through the storm. In the story of Jesus stilling the storm, most folks get caught up in the supernatural power Jesus is said to have had over the weather. But taken as a metaphor for our lives, what does it say? Jesus isn’t worried about a little rough patch, he rests in the knowledge that he’ll come through it. The disciples are getting wet, they’re scared, they’re tossed and thrown about, maybe they are even getting sick. Plus they are probably angry at Jesus for sleeping through it and not helping them bail! But there is an implied assurance from Jesus in his comment, “ Where is your faith?” that suggests to us that the disciples are not alone, the Divine is seeing them through this rough time… and yes, they might get sick and wet, but they will make it.
It sort of reminds me of when my daughter was young and we’d go to see the latest Disney movie at the theater. Almost every time a scary part would come… the snake in Aladdin, the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, Scar and the hyenas in the Lion King… and she would get scared and anxious and want to be taken out of the theater. No amount of persuading could convince her that everything would be OK in the end and to just wait it out.
Chaos theory says that it is natural for there to be order, then disorder, then order and disorder. This is what happens. Relax and expect the unexpected. Life is a system too complex to predict. The assurance of chaos theory is that eventually things will right themselves again and a new order will arise. We will get through. In an odd way, we can trust in this instability, because somehow within even the chaos, there will be forward movement to something new. And that is the way of the Divine… transformation and new life. It won’t necessarily be what we were planning or expecting, but we can find peace in surrendering to the process and trusting that we’ll come out the other side most likely wiser and with more character!
Love & Light!