The Role of Chaos, Despair and Decline in the Birth of New Life

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A thin sheen of flour covers the floor. (My wife has been baking non-stop for a week!) Fifty percent of the Christmas presents lie hidden but unwrapped on the bedroom floor, the quantity casting a shadow over the resolve to find “only simple things for the stockings this year!” Lists of “what we still need to do” are 80% complete. A meditation for Christmas morning sits, only 75% complete, on the screen and the Godly Play story, to be told Christmas Eve, has become resistant to taking up residence in long-term memory.

It would be an exaggeration to say we are in chaos but we are a far cry from appearing on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens.

Then there are the family concerns. A big family always provides fertile ground for anxiety, if not worry. The question, “How’s the family?” can only be answered by calculating averages so the response is always “Fine!”

Partly in response to family circumstance and partly through engagement with the Christian stories of Christmas, I wonder about the role of chaos, even despair, in the birth of new life.

Addictions are part of our family story. I am no fan of the “they have to hit rock bottom” theory of recovery. The arrival of fentanyl and carfentanil means that a backhoe has replaced the shovel in the race to the deepest hole. Death is not a recoverable bottom.

That said, I also believe there has to come a moment when one believes their life is worth saving, when opportunities for change can be seized. (It is another question whether we, as a society, provide enough opportunities to walk a new path.)

2017 will also mark a time of transition for many in our family - a return to school to pursue a new career, new jobs, a return to work from a year’s maternity leave, among others. Each will bring their own version of chaos and struggle along with possibilities of hope and joy.

Bishop Ough maintains that it is “only when we are disoriented that God can get our full attention.” I wonder if that is true.

Is the setting of the origin/birth story of Jesus within a framework of chaos and disruption to prompt us to pay attention? The dislocation of Mary and Joseph due to government policy, the poor timing of being away from home during the last days of pregnancy, the pregnancy itself, and the setting for the birth - all elements that introduce some measure of chaos, exhaustion and the potential for despair.

My own image of God prevents me from saying that God engineers times of despair and decline. I am more inclined to believe, like Bishop Ough, that it is during such times that we seem to pay greater attention to the offer and signs of new life that Emmanuel, “God with us,” continually presents.

For me, if God is with us in the times of inconvenience, mess, struggle, and dislocation then I also need to listen for a counterpoint to the tune of fear that can play in my spirit like an earworm.

In times of struggle & dislocation I need to listen for a counterpoint to the tune of fear that can play in my spirit like an earworm

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Picture by Noel Allen

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