“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2)
An absence of form, order, or light.
In other words, chaos.
The Spirit of God hovered over the surface, imagining, pondering, planning. Then speaking: Light! And ex nihilo, light appears, separating day from night. Then Sky! separating water above from the water below. God continued speaking and bringing order out of chaos. Making lemon trees and peonies, waterfalls and mountains, giraffes and starfish, and finally, woman and man.
And it was all good.
I spend most of my waking hours creating. In this very moment, my office is cluttered with dozen of books, sticky notes, 4X6 cards taped to my walls, medical forms waiting to be filled out, snacks, empty coffee mugs, and camera gear needing to be put away. I’m surrounded by chaos. Genesis 1 seems to validate my experience that chaos and creation are intimately connected.
Ultimately, creating tames chaos.
Over the past eight months while writing a book, my job was to tame the chaos that swirled in my head. To bring order to my many, often disorganized and disparate, thoughts.
Painters tame the chaos—the nothingness—of a white canvas with ochre, azure, teal, crimson, and emerald. With wide brushstrokes and tiny dots. (If you’ve never seen the Act 1 finale of Sunday in the Park with George, please watch this short clip!)
Gardeners tame the chaos of weeds and ever-encroaching grass and undo the havoc caused by beetles and bunnies.
We tame chaos in relationships, in the environment, in broken systems, and more prosaically, in our refrigerators and on our desktops. And perhaps because of the second law of thermodynamics, we have to do this again, and again, and again.
To fulfill our calling as chaos tamers, we need our imagination. Our imaginations should be able to energize the present moment, even if circumstances portend doom. That’s because the imaginative faculty is a function of God’s DNA in us.
We all have the ability to imagine. To create solutions. To solve problems. We do this all day, everyday without even being aware of how miraculous it actually is. Consider the practice of putting dinner on the table 365 times a year. (Truly, this requires an inspired imagination.) To some degree,
hope fuels our imagination.
Janine Langan believes that the process of imagining in and of itself “is an act of hope.” Theologian Walter Brueggemann writes, “The task of the prophetic imagination… is to cut through the despair and to penetrate the dissatisfied coping that seems to have no end or resolution.” When we choose to imagine how the justice system, our church, or our marriage might change, we are refusing to give up or capitulate that this is as good as it gets. We are saying No! to the status quo and despair.
In addition to hope, creating order out of chaos requires us to rest. Is it coincidental that God rested on the seventh day after creating the universe? Subduing chaos is work. Sacred work.
This sacred work is not simply for us. It’s meant to benefit everyone around us. The artist may take deep pleasure in filling a canvas, but if no one ever stands in front of it and is moved by it, the process of creating will not truly satisfy. Though the desire for affirmation or praise might sometimes motivate us to tame chaos and create, affirmation and praise are moving targets and we need more than that to sustain us.
Is it possible that the more is love? Love of colors and textures and tastes and words? Love of family? Love of justice? Love of God as we follow his example?
From this vantage point, venturing into chaos—which often feels overwhelming and intimidating—can be seen as the first step in bringing His kingdom to earth. In righting wrongs. In undoing evil. Regardless of how we spend our days, I think God calls all of us to this.
So come. Venture in. And do so knowing the the Spirit of the Living God doesn’t simply hover above us—but resides in us, giving us everything that we need to tame the chaos and bring beauty to the waiting world.