I was recently at an event where the speaker was speaking about Genesis 1.1 as the moment in which God brings order out of chaos. He went on to make some interesting points, but he very nearly lost me in the first 30 seconds, when he said that the experience of ministry is generally one of order, which is occasionally – as it has been during the pandemic – interrupted by chaos. “Really???” I thought. That’s not my experience of ministry – or of life in general. In my experience chaos is always fairly near the surface, and often interweaves with whatever order we may discern among it in interesting, creative and sometimes challenging ways.
I find Underhill’s concept of a continual process of the Holy Spirit brooding over the chaos of creation a far more helpful approach to discerning God’s movement in the world. This is not a triumphalist narrative of order subduing or overcoming chaos, nor does it assume that order is the default experience of our lives, when very obviously for many if not most people it is not. Instead it is an approach which seems to me to emphasise our continual dependence on the patient loving-kindness of God who is continually brooding over us, continually ordering the world and our lives, continually coaxing creativity out of the mess and muddle in which we exist.
Such an image fits more fully with my own experience than that offered in the talk I heard recently. But it also fits more fully with my understanding and experience of God, as one continually involved in the action of loving into fullness of life all that she has created. And that understanding of God, as continually and intimately involved in loving creation, must inform my spiritual life. If, as Underhill says, “my small, formless, imperfect soul is constantly subject to the loving, creative action of God, in all the bustle of my daily life”, then the mess and chaos of life is not something to be overcome by order, or pushed aside to make room for prayer, but something in which to discern the ever-patient presence of God.
This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading ‘Music of Eternity: meditations for Advent with Evelyn Underhill’ by Robyn Wrigley-Carr. Join the conversation in the Facebook group, or by following the hashtag on Twitter.