You know how people will often choose a word for the year? In the month of January, you choose a word or phrase that is meant to inspire or build hope or set the tone for the year ahead.
Last year, my word is “chaos.”
Which neither inspires hope or sets a tone for winners.
I blurted it out in January for the first time without thinking when I was at the tail end of a trip to Israel. We had just hiked us through the old city and our pockets were full of tchotchkes and we were ready to head back to our hotel and pack up after a full 10-day trip.
We went around the circle of about 30 of us and shared a word to describe our experience. When the circle came to me, my palms got sweaty, and without thinking, the word “chaos” came out of my mouth loud and clear.
This was early January, the start of a new year, and the beginning of opening my heart back up to faith and God after my dad died a year earlier. I was questioning a lot about God, and grieving, and for a while, I distanced myself from God.
My dad had ALS and when he died, I was 35 and he had been sick for over half my life. His death was a mix of relief, confusion, sadness, and the shock of feeling shocked – because even if you see death’s train rolling down the tracks, the finality of it still takes your breath away. I saw it coming for years, but when it finally happened, I was surprised to find that I was still surprised.
The word chaos came so much out of nowhere that I was insanely curious about it. I chewed on the word, let it roll around in my head, invited it into conversations and filtered feelings and situations through its lens. I started to realize that it was a true word for for my spiritual life – and when I blurted it out, it came from a place of truth.
It’s like that moment in fall when all the dry leaves have fallen and then the wind suddenly picks up, sending the leaves swirling into the air and around into other people’s yards where they don’t belong.
That was the feeling of my spiritual life. And it wasn’t inspiring or comforting, but a little disconcerting. I have tried some spiritual practices this year, but each time I do, I feel less settled and end up with more questions. Even church feels hard and as these winds of chaos pick up in my spirit, I find myself backing away from spirituality, because who wants to be disrupted from their peaceful, daily rhythm?
I try to identify these swirling leaves:
A leaf for my questions about religion
A leaf for my doubts about God
One for anxiety
Not fitting into church, a small group…
A whole pile for grief
More for my questions –
About love and loss
About the afterlife
About the very hard things in life.
I watch the leaves, but there’s nothing to do with them, by the way. It ruins the fun of fall – which is raking them into a pile and jumping into them and then setting them on the curb for the city to take away in a nice, neat fashion. Control. But when they are swirling around, you cannot control them.
When my spirit is unsettled, I cannot control it. I have to sit in it and watch it happen around me and just try to keep my eyes open to pay attention. It feels very chaotic.
I looked up the word chaos at one point, hoping to find some deeper meaning in the Hebrew that I could hang onto (because like I said, that word is not very inspiring).
It’s found in the creation story. Genesis – the very beginning. The spirit of God hovers over the water, which is described as – chaos.
And then, God brings life.
It’s the chaos before the creation.
It’s the stirring up before the new life comes.
When I read that, I thought – yes! Something good is coming! God is creating something new.
But that wasn’t my word. My word wasn’t re-birth or re-new or even new or creation or create.
My word was chaos. Period. And over and over this year, it’s proved true for me.
So I’m trying to sit in it. I’m trying to breathe through the tension of my spirituality. I grew up in church – my dad was a pastor and now my husband is a pastor. I do love the local church, but I have a few questions about Church (capital C). And I know I’m not the only one.
So many of us are finding God outside the walls of the church these days – in a yoga class, over coffee with a friend, hiking in the woods. Which is where we have always found him. But now we’re just finding him there and letting it be.
Because what would it mean to bring my chaos to church?
What would that look like? And how do I get really honest about the questions I have? When the wind picks up in life, where do I find God in the world to get my footing again? And, maybe, some of you are like me and when you do lean into God, you feel more confusion than clarity.
I’ve never heard a sermon about that. Have you?
It’s November as I write this and the word came to me in January. I thought by now I would have gotten to the creation part of the story. That the chaos would ensue, but – surely! – by the fall I would see a new work begin to grow.
Instead, I am still sensing this stirring…the discomfort…the word that no-one knows what to do with or how to talk about.
So I stay curious. Because even though the predictable things haven’t happened when I’ve pressed into God this year, something is happening. My spirit is moved in a way I have never felt before – and I may not have expected this method, but if there’s one thing I know from reading the Bible, God always shows up in the ways we least expect.
Maybe I’m like those guys who saw Jesus after he was resurrected. They were with him for a full day before they realized who he was. Maybe soon I’ll see the Jesus in this story – and just like these guys in the Bible, I will say, “Oh, I thought something was stirring in my spirit! You were speaking to me all along!”