Even during challenging times, the possibility for transformation is here.
I was hitchhiking through Germany back in the 1970s and was picked up by a man about 10 years older than me who was a professor at a college in Munich. He very kindly took me to his home for lunch before returning me to the autobahn to continue my travels.
As we ate, I noticed a statement that had been inscribed on the kitchen wall. It read, “Chaos is an order we do not yet understand.”
I was a young man in my early 20s and right at the beginning of my spiritual journey. The statement intrigued me because it spoke not only to the limitations of human knowledge and understanding but to the idea that even what seems arbitrary and chaotic could be part of a greater, universal order and harmony.
‘Even the Darkness Is Not Dark to You’
The universe, and humankind’s understanding of it, is constantly unfolding. Newtonian physics, in its elegance and surety, became the foundation of our understanding for two centuries.
Then the apparently chaotic and contradictory landscape of quantum physics was posited, which shifted our adventure in knowledge to new levels. The outwardly crazy dance of subatomic particles and their refusal to be pinned down in time and nature can initially confuse us but is ultimately exhilarating.
Particle or wave, Spirit or matter, order or chaos? In our new understanding we do not have to choose one or the other. Both nest together like the Taoist symbol of yin-yang or the Hindu marriage of Shiva-Shakti—undifferentiated potential and manifested energy.
Charles Fillmore, cofounder of Unity, was keenly aware of this interplay of substance and form, of idea and manifestation, and it is a cornerstone of his teaching.
One of my very favorite psalms, Psalm 139, speaks to this marriage when the psalmist says, speaking of God,
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,’ even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
In practical spirituality, this means, for me, that the light, the order, the wisdom of the Divine permeates all things. The presence of God is available even in the most chaotic and challenging times. The possibility for transformation is always here.
‘All Is in Divine Order’
Having said that, I think it is important to avoid easy answers to difficult and heartrending problems. This is sometimes called “cheap grace” or “spiritual bypassing.” This is when we blithely affirm or declare that “All is in divine order” or “God doesn’t give us something we can’t handle” without engaging at the human level.
For those dealing with grief or deep sadness, or trying to understand why atrocities happen, these statements, however intrinsically true, sound cruel and insensitive. Chaos seems like chaos when we are in the middle of it, and no platitude or benevolence from others will suffice.
There is a story of a woman who came to the Indian teacher H.W.L. Poonja (known as “Poonjaji”), distraught and in tears, because a close friend of hers had just been killed in a tragic situation. She was inconsolable.
Poonjaji simply came toward her and held her gently in silence, allowing her to cry and rail against the injustice of the world.
Then, after a long time, he looked her in the eyes and said, quietly, “This is samsara—the world of time and change.” She could hear the words because he had allowed space for her grief. He did not try to deny her feelings but responded to them with loving action and compassion.
Chaos and Order, Light and Dark
As a minister of 34 years, I know how difficult it is to minister to others in this way, avoiding pat answers, extending love, while at the same time conveying a message that is helpful and grounded in principle.
Whether you are a minister or not—and we all minister to each other in some way—I have found only one way to do this successfully. It is to embody in your own being the reconciliation of apparent opposites—chaos and order, light and dark, horror and compassion, anger and imperturbable joy.
The mathematician and mystic Nicholas of Cusa called it “the coincidence of opposites.” As we alluded earlier, it is beautifully illustrated in the simplicity of the yin-yang symbol. The swirling black and white forms each contain a dot of their opposite, and all is contained within the circle of wholeness that represents both the Universe and our own being.
I thank the young professor for his hospitality that day long ago and for the wisdom I found written on his kitchen wall.