There was much to grieve as 2020 heaved its last gasping breaths. In the final days, the world seemed to be “groaning as in the pains of child birth.” Anyone else feel it?
I don’t need to spend much time reminding us why I’ve called 2020 the Year of Chaos. Or why others have called it “The Great Shaking.” We have felt the tectonic plates pulling apart beneath our feet in so many ways, both collectively and individually. I can hardly remember a time in my life when so much seemed unknown. I find myself unable to plan much more than a month at a time…because I have no idea what lies ahead. So many of our structures, rhythms, relationships, and even leaders, have shifted. There’s been much to mourn.
Personally, I have drawn strength from the text of Job so many times over the last couple of years. Specifically, I have loved Elihu’s exhortation to take care in how we grieve. (Elihu is not to be confused with Job’s three infamous friends who offer Job little comfort in the midst of his grief.) Elihu reminds us there is a cosmic difference between lament and despair. I admit, I have felt the hot breath of despair against my skin many times over the last couple months. The temptation to grow cynical is fierce. Anyone else?
And yet, as Madeleine L’Engle says,
“But when the world is, indeed, in chaos,
then an affirmation of cosmos becomes essential.”
Cosmos is the universe seen as a well-ordered whole. It is the perspective that clings with defiant hope to the truth that, underneath all the chaos, we will find wholeness and life and rhythm and order. Truth, goodness, and beauty are what’s left standing in the rubble. They will not be shaken – because the birth story of our universe is God’s breath against our unformed world. He hovered over the chaos then and He’s hovering over it now. This is what anchors me, over and over again.
We can choose cosmos instead of chaos.
An affirmation of cosmos is not a Pollyanna naïveté, dismissive of the chaos around us. It’s not a willful ignorance or a self-protection that shields itself from the pain of the world. It does not merely look away. Instead, it dares to stare chaos in the face, looks it between the eyes, peers into the abyss, yet has the imagination – the clear vision of reality – to see through it to the other side. It’s a refusal to give chaos the last word.
This affirming defiance springs up when we recognize our hope is not in that which is left teetering in the rubble. Our hope rests in the Word who was in the beginning and will be in the end. It is ultimately on that which can not be shaken, shifted, or unmade. When so much is being torn down, it offers a chance for clarity of vision. To see with piercing precision that which still stands.
G.K. Chesterton tells us that at the end of Job’s journey, he is not given easy answers. And yet, he feels the “terrible and tingling atmosphere of something which is too good to be told.”
I am thankful for those who’ve spent time with me the last couple days affirming cosmos when I was tempted to see only chaos. You know who you are. Thank you to all of you faithfully breathing life into the abyss, speaking hope and beauty where seeds of despair are taking root. It takes great courage and humility to persist in small and hidden work in a world clamoring for power and position. Do not underestimate the mighty gust of what you’re doing. It may be hidden and small…but do not despise those small beginnings. God loves to bundle the glories of the universe in small, unassuming packages.
As a new year is birthed, and we turn the proverbial corner into 2021, I hold no hope that the magic of the calendar is going to instantly shake away what haunts us. I don’t think many of us do. But, somehow in the midst of this mess, I do feel the terrible and tingling atmosphere of something too good to be told.
I wonder -do you feel it, too?
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”
The gorgeous featured image is courtesy of the marvelous photographer, Jade Payne, and is used with her gracious permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Nicole Howe is a writer, speaker, Bible study teacher, wife, and homeschooling mama to four kiddos. She serves as editor and regular contributor for the quarterly publication, An Unexpected Journal and holds a Masters Degree in Cultural Apologetics from Houston Baptist University, where she discovered the power of the imagination to restore awe and wonder to her floundering faith. Drawing deep insights from her ordinary experiences, Nicole is passionate about helping others discover the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty of Christ in broken and unlikely places. When she’s not devouring books, Nicole loves singing, pretending to be a chef, and performing Improv at her local theater.