A fish can neither survive in a waterfall nor in a dying pond.
This little proverb came to me a week ago as I was introducing the phrase “holy chaos” to you in my post, “The Parable of Rusty Nails”. In that post I spoke of how a little shock to a person or an organization can sometimes be the best catalyst for growth and transformation. I postulated that a little chaos can sometimes be just the thing a person, a family or an organization needs to become healthier.
I also knew as I wrote it that I was only telling half of the story. In recent years I have been following a deeply intuitive voice when it comes to making decisions about my personal life and my professional role. This loosely defined, often hidden inner authority, I am calling the voice of the soul. It would be a mistake to say that the soul is always urging us toward a little more chaos in our lives. It is more accurate to say that the soul seeks vitality and a deep intimacy with the world as it is.
This little parable about the fish mirrors well the environment that our souls need in order to thrive and grow. I have come to believe that there is a continuum that our soul exists in with constant chaos on one end and complete predictability on the other end. A waterfall represents such a chaotic vitality that a fish cannot survive. On the other end, a dying pond with no inlet and no outlet represents a deadly predictability that will eventually result in a fish kill. Holy chaos can be inserted when not enough vitality is present for an organism to survive. Predictability is the aim when so much vitality is present that an organism eventually dies of exhaustion.
As I have looked back over my professional life it is easy to see how this has played out. I spent about five years working with youth who had been removed from their homes because of criminal activity. In nearly every case, a common thread in the stories of these youth was that they came from very chaotic families and situations—drug use, physical, emotional and sexual abuse, neglect and deprivation. It was important to me to lead them to healthier lives. Because of their family situations I felt like I was trying to insert as much predictability into their lives as I could. They didn’t need more chaos; they needed to know what they could count on day to day in order to have room to make better decisions.
I also served four churches as a pastor. Interestingly enough, I also felt it was important to lead them toward a healthier community environment. Of the four churches I served, three of them were closer to the predictability end of the continuum to the point where they were losing their vitality (seen in membership, attendance and giving declines). In each of these three churches I inserted a little “holy chaos” in order to bring some new energy into the congregation. What these churches needed was not more of the same, but something to stir them up in order to bring more oxygen and energy into their environment.
The common thread in all of my work has been to lead people and organizations toward that place for which our soul yearns—a deeply vital, engaged, passionate and intimate relationship with the world. As I have said, I have come to believe that our environment dictates the kinds of yearnings for which our soul cries out. Too much chaos and our souls become exhausted; too little chaos and our souls will die of deprivation. It is sometimes said that Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. That is, to lessen the chaos in the lives of those who are afflicted and to increase the chaos in the lives of those who are too comfortable.
A fish can neither survive in a waterfall nor in a dying pond. Is your soul yearning for some sacred stillness or a little holy chaos? Only you can answer that question.