Tuesday, March 4, 2014

God As a Strange Attractor

"Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
    We are the clay, you are the potter;
    we are all the work of your hand."
~ Isaiah 64:8

Strange attractors.

I was reminded of this concept at the beginning of the semester in a place I wasn’t expecting.  This semester I am taking a class on the Torah, taught from the Jewish perspective by a rabbi.  The class has been a fascinating look at the Jewish scriptures through a new set of lenses.  This new way of understanding my Jewish brothers and sisters’ has challenged my aptitude to articulate my own theology and offered ample opportunities for deeper reflection.  I’ll give you an example.

Planetary Nebula NGC 6302.  (cc) www.hubblesite.org
Our class began in the very beginning (…do I hear Maria Von Trapp’s voice in the distance…??) with a discussion on The Creation.  Genesis 1:2 describes the state of the “world” before God acted upon it as “unformed and void.”  The Spirit of God (Ruach Elohim) comes, hovers over the formless void, and creates.  As a modern, when I hear this verse, I usually picture the immense darkness of outer space, sans stars.  For me, the opposite of created order is something not created, or nothing.  Ancients understood the world in a very different way.  For our early ancestors, the opposite of created order was disorder or chaos.  Religion fulfilled a very important role for them, as it imposed an ordered structure on a disordered world. 

At this point in the class, the Rabbi turned to us, and asked a “thinking question.”  Let me explain.  Our class is quite intimate.  Myself and two others comprise the sum total of registered students.  In order to stimulate discussion (and I expect check that we are doing the readings each week) part of our homework includes “thinking questions,” that is, discussion questions of a reflective nature which integrate the weekly reading material with personal theology.  The Rabbi asked us, “So, the thinking question for this week was: Might we say that part of the role of “religion” is to quiet our fears and anxieties of chaos by positing an order to the universe?  Tell me, how do you see chaos?” 

And, honest to God, my first thought was, “I’m in the novitiate!  Forget seeing chaos - I LIVE in it!!”  Those of you who have been through novitiate – you know exactly what I mean.

Strange Attractor Fractal.  (cc) http://www.chaoscope.org/gallery.htm
This notion of chaos and order has followed me since that first weeks of class.  Recently, I was reminded of a concept that might put structure to my wonderings on this subject - strange attractors.  Through a very basic education in the new cosmology (and its applied theology) I have come to understand strange attractors as spontaneous, emergent changes which reorder an open, dynamic (and chaotic) system.  Used to describe the shape of this spontaneous emergence within Chaos Theory, the strange attractor imposes a new order within the chaos.  I have been wondering, “What is the strange attractor that is attempting imposing order upon my own interior chaos this year?”


I learned later that the Hebrew tetragrammation of God’s name (YHWH) is rooted in a form of the “to be” verb.  God gives a name with a root that is causative (as in God CAUSES "to be").  Just as the Ruach Elohim came down over the formless void in the beginning, so too, Adonai is working within me to reorganize my interior structure and form it in a better image of God’s-self.  And this work is not limited just to me.  Through my experiences this year, I have come to believe that our call, if we choose to accept it, is to maintain open systems, to listen and be sensitive to the voice of the Spirit. The Lord is working in all of our interior lives, each and every day.

‘Till You are my one desire
‘Till You are my one true love
'Tilll You are my breath, my everything
Lord, please keep making me.

Keep Making Me by the Sidewalk Prophets 


  1. I am breathless . . . What a profound reflection . . . Something for me to ponder, for each person to ponder . . . (Smts)

  2. A wondrous meditation! Thank you for sharing the reality and blessing of chaos in our lives. smjr,op

  3. May the Lord "keep making you" and each one of us!! Thank you for sharing your reflections. Blessings. SMLM

  4. Really mind-bending in the best sort of way...! Also, seems like there's a song in here somewhere :) love, SEM

  5. I was received into the Catholic Church at Easter this year. The process of converting (2 years teaching) has been like living in a total chaos. "Who am I and where am I going?" "Who is God and what has God got to do with my life? After Easter, God gave me a 7 day honeymoon and then the chaos started again but with a different perspective. Going through chaos is part of growing as human beings. Looking through blue coloured lenses that then change to red coloures and later change again.

    Learning the deeper meaning of how to interpret the OT through the Hebrew language gives me chills.

    Thank you very much for your reflections.