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.
“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,
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.
“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
“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 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