I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Elysha O’Brien’s wisdom on living contemplatively in the chaos:
We are a People of Pattern
It is morning. The children have been sent out the door and the downstairs neighbor’s dog begins to howl and cry and yip. My day has already started with noise and chaos and it will take everything in my power to rein it back. But the dog… the dog with his high pitched bark and relentless cry, telling the world his saga of agony and abandonment. I am torn between utter aggravation and empathy for the dog left alone. And his bark continues without pattern, devoid of all sense of music. I think he will quiet down after a two-minute lull, but then the howling begins, and he intersperses his howling with yips and this annoying, maddening sound continues all day long.
Is there any sound more frustrating than those that do not follow a steady rhythm?
We are a people of pattern. We like repetition and harmony, alliteration and resonance. Sounds with pattern we can block out, dull into the periphery of our being… the constant tick of a clock, and even a steady dripping faucet can be forgotten as the noise slides into the patterns of our day.
We prefer structure. Organization. Order.
We mark our days, seasons, and years through repeated pattern. We classify these patterns into systems. The universe has solar systems. Our human body has systems and when systems are found, order… peace… calm is achieved. We like steady unceasing, classifiable patterns.
And yet. I am unsure where this need for order, for pattern belongs. Surely my God is a God that rules chaos too.
God has often been referred as a “potter”. Any potter’s studio I’ve been in has been anything but clean. Sure it is organized, but it is not an organization I readily grasp. There is mess and disarray everywhere. This clashes significantly with the structured/accountant/organized image of God much of the world prefers. God as potter? Or God as accountant? Perhaps it is God as potter/accountant.
I think my God likes to get dirty. I think my God works well in chaos and mess. I think he prefers a people that are malleable like wet clay that he can form and shape within the beauty of his chaotic studio.
Our world is chaotic and our world loves noise, and so we use silence and solitude to find God… but for me I must learn to find God in the noise. My world is rarely quiet. With three boys under the age of 12, my life is one giant sports arena, and though I yearn for mellow and quiet days, such days occur at great intervals. How depleted my soul would be if I only connected with God in times of reflection. No. I must deliberately choose to search for God in the chaos. Because he is right there, always by my side, I need only attune my eyes, ears, and heart to him.
It is easy to find God when the house is quiet, when the children are sleeping, when the world is calm; but finding God amidst the noise, among life’s aggravations, this is the mark of mystic. While hurricanes collide into shore and tornados uproot foundations… when the dog won’t shut up and the kids keep arguing, the mystic does not seek calm. The mystic is calm because God is there. In the mess. In the chaos. Not keeping a tally, not passing a judgment, but setting about creating His art, His beauty, His masterpiece, and working with those that are flexible and malleable and ready to be shaped.
….After many long hours, the dog finally stops crying, and now my children collide back home, through the door, and under my feet, bringing their great cavalcade of noise with them. Soon it is nighttime, and slumber has overtaken children and dogs. The house is calm and serene. Now, the horrible sirens (the loudest of them all) of my own merciless thoughts scream loudly in my head, and the self-criticism and remorse follows no pattern, has no harmony. I am lost in my own ruin. But, drowning in personal sorrow, I remember my prayer to seek God in the dissonance, to find God through the cacophony. And I search God in the chaos. I know He is there.
How do we find compassion for the dog downstairs that will not shut up? How do we discipline children who are supposed to be little and loud? How do we find peace in the endless stream of unsteady noise outside ourselves and inside our own hearts?
We begin with words such as these: “You are the potter, I am the clay.” And we trust that God will stand with us when he puts us into the fire.
Elysha O’Brien is a wife and mother of three boys, ages 11, 10, and 7. She earned her Ph.D. in literacy in 2011, and has presented at many literacy conferences. She enjoys reading, writing, scrapbooking, traveling, and dancing. Someday, she plans on attending theology school, meanwhile she writes.