Cowley: Chaos Better

... tries to sit with what is hard: those places where we are struggling, whether on a personal, interpersonal, or global level. It recognizes and offers ways to navigate the very real chaos within us, between us, and around us – from reckoning with America’s racial past, to dealing with community conflict, from asking questions of theodicy in light of global violence, to wrestling with mental illness.

2023 Fall Cowley_Cover

“Crucified Everywhere,“ by Luke Ditewig. This image was taken at Campus by the Sea on Catalina Island, California, on August 5, 2021. “On a trail up to the central ridge of the desert island, the fence reminds me of life beyond the remote canyon’s Christian camp. As on trails at Emery House, the crucifix startles at first. Wherever we are, amid wondrous beauty, carrying deep pain, and in any kind of strife, as on the cross, Jesus holds all.”

A Word of Welcome

Growing up in the 1960s, one of my favorite television shows was “Get Smart.” I loved seeing what Maxwell Smart and his partner Agent 99 got up to week by week. To my eight- year-old mind, it was about good guys, doing battle with the bad guys, and always coming out the winners, with the aid of Max’s shoe phone and the inevitable cone of silence. To this day, as guests arrive for retreat, and we invite them into a time of silence and prayer, I tell them that the cone of silence is about to descend.

While the show was about the battle between good and evil, it was no accident that this battle played out between the agents of Control and Kaos. While that subtlety escaped me at the time, I can’t help but reflect, sixty years later, on how universal is the desire for control, as well as the struggle against chaos.

Like many of you, I recently had my own experience of chaos in my life, when I lost control. In August, I finally came down with a mild case of Covid-19. While my symptoms were not severe, what I did experience was a loss of physical control of my body, as the very real experience of Covid fatigue set in. For nearly two weeks, all I seemed to be aware of was how tired I was. Everything I would normally do in a day, I could not, as I lay in bed, or fell asleep in my chair. It was clear I was not in control and had to submit to the chaos of feeling unwell.

While my personal battle between control and chaos lasted, I was profoundly aware that what was happening to me was a microcosm of something much larger. The question for me – as I experienced this deep fatigue – was not “How do I regain control,” but “How can I be faithful in the midst of this chaos?” It is, I believe a question all of us ask countless times throughout our lives. It is a question this series Chaos Better explores as we ask in different ways: What is God’s invitation to us in the midst of the mess and chaos of life? It is our hope that as you reflect on these articles, you will be able to identify moments in your own life when you were aware of Jesus saying to the wind and waves battering you, “Peace, be still.”.


Faithfully in the One who speaks
peace into the storms of life,

James Koester,
SSJE Superior

220922a_225 copy

Note from the Series Editor
Br. Lucas Hall

We have experienced a great deal of chaos in recent times. The Church has seen upheaval and disruption, human societies have undergone war and pestilence, the environment around us gives rise to fire and flood, and our own individual lives are marked by pressing external and internal concerns, from housing prices to mental health crises. These shifts and instabilities can feel deeply alienating, strange, and disheartening.

But the reality of the Church’s history is one marked by a great deal of perseverance in the midst of chaos, survival, sometimes even thriving, as an anchor and refuge in the midst of the storm that life often brings. This shifting and instability can even be the breaking open that leads to greater or deeper encounter with God, for individuals, communities, even the world writ large.

In this series, the Brothers have sought to explore various aspects of this experience of chaos, felt individually and communally. In particular, we have desired to express how the strife and difficulty we have encountered might actually be a path to a fuller experience and knowing of God. As you read and pray with this issue, we hope you will see paths forward in your own life, to discover God more fully even in the chaos of the world.

View the image below to read the print version of Cowley Magazine

Images from Cowley Magazine

Additional Pieces

The Strife of a Racialized World

“Followers of Jesus are called to walk by faith and not by sight, which I know makes navigating the strife of a racialized world possible and hope-filled.”

The Rev. Ollie V. Rencher speaks hopeful truth from the heart about living – and being disciples – in a racialized world.

Continue reading

On Time in Navajoland

“So many realities require direct confrontation: the weight of such historic oppression, the ways the white Church has caused or colluded with it, so much suffering. In a place of such woundedness and so many ghosts, I confronted the question: What can I possibly do to help?”

In this heartfelt interview, Br. Keith Nelson shares some of the challenges and inspirations that he gleaned during his time in Navajoland.

Continue reading

The Johnstown Flood of 1889

“The question Fr. Field prayerfully asked was “Why?” How many of us ask this same question of God in prayer amidst the chaos we experience in our lives?”

A tragic chapter in American history opens a window into the faith of an historic SSJE Brother.

Continue reading

Formation in Practice

“We hope that in reflecting on chaos as an invitation from God, you will find it meaningful to share in discussion of these questions with others.”

Continue reading

19 Comments

  1. Patricia Robertson on February 28, 2024 at 19:25

    Due to travel it took me awhile to get to reading this magazine in a time and space when I could absorb it. It is very rich with content. I did keep looking for the positive side of chaos which is that it is the substance out of which creation happens. When life seems chaotic I remind myself that the Holy Spirit is at work and the new will emerge out of this disruption. I have seen this in my own inner growth and presence that occurs during time of major disruption: death, divorce, conflict. Thanks for all that you do to share your reflections. Blessings to you!

  2. Tudy Hill on January 27, 2024 at 12:43

    Thank you to everyone who contributed to ‘Chaos Better’.

    My go-to article is the one by Br David; I have shared his summary and reflection with many. I have not visited Montgomery, Alabama, but have wanted to for the same reasons as Brs David and Curtis. We owe it to ourselves, our nation, and our democracy to be confronted with truth. I have known for almost all of my 72 years that our treatment of our fellow Black citizens is immoral, but my ‘politeness’ overran my ability to speak out.
    No longer will I remain silent since George Floyd’s murder…over the past 3 1/2 years I have read almost nothing else. I am now acting and listening, thanks to many of my brothers and sisters who continue to speak out.

    I also read more than once: ‘The Black Christ’, ‘Visiting Jesus in Prison’, and ‘Navajoland’. And I think Br Geoffrey’s article about Northern Ireland gives me hope today.

  3. CM Obermeyer on January 2, 2024 at 20:28

    January 2, 2024
    SSJE’s booklet “Chaos Better” is a miserable, offensive attempt to be Woke, with little redeeming spirituality and extensive political commentary; the same claptrap inundating TV 24/7. I look forward to reading SSJE’s profound daily emails. The “Chaos Better” booklet is symptomatic of the reasons for the decline in Episcopalian congregation attendance. Regrettably I write as a cradle Episcopalian serving the Altar as an acolyte, reader, EV, and leader for 70 years. In contrast, SSJE’s “The Lord’s Prayer” booklet was inspiring and beneficial, which I shared with congregants and priests.
    Grace and Peace,

  4. Peter Michaelson on January 1, 2024 at 19:46

    This new medium is quite wonderful. While it covered familiar territory it also introduced new perspectives and deeper connections. Thank you!

    The shortcoming is that it’s too much at a time! Organization or lack of it is disorienting and invites at least initially to a kind of emotional/spiritual indigestion. The title, *Chaos*, perhaps alludes to chaos theory, but isn’t that a take on God’s freedom of design of Creation? Less indigestible than uplifting one hopes?

  5. Mahlon Collins on January 1, 2024 at 14:38

    Stimulating, though-provoking articles. Thank you for this wonderful series.

  6. Rev. Jennifer Brooks on January 1, 2024 at 12:48

    I really appreciated the Chaos Better series. I didn’t read them all—but the ones I did read took me to a place of deep reflection and, to my surprise, comfort. I felt better able to manage the daily challenges. The essays resonated with my spirit in ways that still continue.

  7. Kathleen Klee on January 1, 2024 at 12:24

    Thank you for another thought-provoking and beautifully written series of articles. I was especially inspired by Brother Tristram’s article, “Violence and the Promise of God,” in which he details how many decades in took for peace, albeit still a fragile one, to be established in Northern Ireland. It gives me hope that somewhere in our future there will be a peace, especially in the Ukraine and the Gaza territory. Thank you for enriching my spiritual life. I look forward to your daily emails and special publications, such as the Chaos booklet.

  8. Margaret Smith on January 1, 2024 at 12:00

    Two reflections touched me as I read them in this season of my life. The first was Br. Almquist’s thoughts about visiting those in prison. There is a song in popular Evangelical circles called “Give me the Eyes to See”; this comes home to me as I go and sit in our local nursing home services. Multiple churches participate in this ministry but I recognize how difficult it is for many “able-bodied” individuals. It is hard for them to imagine this group when they were the Sunday school teachers and church social organizers of the past. AND they often have not sung the songs or prayed the prayers these elderly folks know. Often they are afraid to touch and engage with people who only speak with their eyes–when you hold their hands and they look up.
    The second one was Br. Hall’s “Breaking Apart.” On the other end of the spectrum, the GenZ’ers and GenX’ers are faced with no sense of hope. Young people who have stepped away from organized church and found other activities, because they are so disenchanted/disenfranchised with the Church–not having encountered the personhood of Jesus Christ as described in Hebrews 2:17-18: He was made to be a man that he might know ALL who suffer and can give succor to ALL. Generally, our Gospel has been limited to our service and not our KNOWING Jesus.
    Thank you, Brothers, for your transparency and revealing your wounded hearts.

  9. Mark Semmes Anschutz on January 1, 2024 at 10:17

    I confess, I cannot perfectly identify what has made this issue so uniquely powerful, touching and meaningful. I do know that the opening of each of the Brothers ….. their vulnerability, transparency, wisdom and sense of hope ……. are a great gift to me. They are also a source of my wanting to share each particular article with a variety of persons for whom each will have a deep and unique meaning value. As with each day of my life, I continue to be changed and, thus, ever grateful for the richness of my relationship to SSJE.

  10. Susan Kern on December 31, 2023 at 20:35

    I found this issue helpful and engaging.

  11. mary cushman on December 31, 2023 at 16:54

    Thought it was great!! I found the title unnecessarily obtuse. It actually created a great irony: the articles were mostly wonderfully transparent, which made the title seem even more opaque. But many thanks for it, in the main–hope you will do something similar again!

  12. Katie Thomson on December 31, 2023 at 16:54

    The entire issue gave me much on which to ponder. It is truly a gift you give us!!!

  13. Sue Perkinson on December 31, 2023 at 16:03

    I think this was excellent. Really facing what is real and challenging in our lives. I found it helpful as I go about trying to navigate my life and be
    faithful
    Sue P.

  14. Ellen Jockusch on December 31, 2023 at 13:45

    The latest issue of Cowley (Chaos Better) was visually beautiful and spiritually enriching (and challenging!). Thank you, Brother Lucas and all who contributed.

  15. Margot L T on December 31, 2023 at 12:11

    It is nothing short of stunning to me that Cowley arrives at precisely the right time of family or other concerns and always with precisely the needed perspective, be it personal or global. I cannot wait to attend a few retreats at SSJE. I can only thank you in advance for how much of an energizing presence you bring to my life for some years now. In h/Hope for a renewing 2024, MLT

  16. Reed Saunders on December 31, 2023 at 12:05

    Taking risk is to grow. Well done. If we truly are in God’s kingdom, we can deal with chaos.

  17. Stephen Etzel on December 31, 2023 at 11:20

    I think this was the best Cowley ever. Open, vulnerable and honest. Things are changing. You are staying very relevant and in the forefront. I enjoyed it much, thanks.

  18. Deborah Smith Douglas on December 31, 2023 at 11:15

    All of these pieces were powerful in their candor, intimacy, vulnerability, and generosity in sharing personal stories.

    Brother Curtis’ essay on his prison ministry was particularly heart-piercing: I have shared it with others involved in that challenging ministry, who have also found it inspiring and encouraging.

    Bless you, brothers, for helping all of us to “chaos better.”

  19. Sylvia Dunn on December 31, 2023 at 10:38

    Thank you for such an inspiring and stimulating series of articles. Bringing Gods word to me. Enabling me to think in new ways ,to have a glimpse of Gods overwhelming love for all people, to be incarnate with us , to be with us in all the chaos and strife that is all around and in us. Thank you.

Leave a Comment