Thursday, December 3, 2015

Chaos as the Meta-Love of God

The Breath of Life blew Itself across the vast expanse of the Great Potential. And the first solar fractals to respond to the Breath were water.  And behold the waters calmed and knew their roles. They, in an instant knew exactly where they belonged and to Whom.  The birth of Self-awareness.  At the beginning of Light they first recognized themselves and in its glow they acted, in concert, without conflict or error, with perfect understanding and seamless collaboration.  Aligning themselves with the Intent of the One Who Breathes.  The Breath too, knew Its role.  And with joyful abandon portrayed it.  This windy Breath, enriched with life-giving attributes, of which the LIFE to whom it so lovingly and completely gave Itself knew nothing—at least consciously—swirled and buoyed the now coalescing waters into their proper places; their proper satisfactions.  The waters, now embedded with this new self-awareness, sparkled also with the sudden knowledge that this would be the beginning of a new moment, a new time, the newest adventure in a Universe teeming with Love.  Life Itself would now form, almost of its own accord, for Love, once manifest, knows exactly what to do.  It needs no guidance, no king, no hierarchy, no rules.  Love participates in the uniform divinity of all things and as such, once coalesced into action, requires nothing further to inform It.  Life begins.  

And it is much loved.

It could be said that Love creates and Fear destroys.  But Love also can be destructive, even if for a Purpose.  And Fear is adroitly creative.  These two aspects of seemingly chaotic reality exist in a state of sacred tension within our world.  Their duality confuses us and makes us sometimes doubt the notion of a loving Creator.  We struggle to find our place in a world that we feel both supports as well as destroys us.   Nothing is secure.   Even an arrangement of molecules is tenuous.  And life is no less so.  We attempt to align words with the ineffable, but always fall short.  Exactly what is it that makes a creation story?  When we first design our mythologies, to what are we intuitively responding and attempting to describe?  

Inside the earliest tales of the creation of our world exist recurring themes of water and air.  Regarding air, what is in Hebrew termed ruach, or breath of God is repeated over and over in many forms.  It separates the waters in Genesis and then returns Itself as “breath of life” to the earth after 150 days of the destructive flood of the Noah tale.  The breath of Marduk, king of the gods in the ancient Mesopotamian myths, is employed to help finally defeat the chaotic water goddess Tiamat, her body parts then used to fashion into the world.1  The Breath, could be viewed as the atmosphere itself and the winds that it contains.  Within this atmosphere is life-giving oxygen, of course, but even more atmospherically prevalent is nitrogen.2  Nitrogen is one of the most crucial building blocks of our world as we know it, and the most abundant uncombined element in the atmosphere.  From ancient times, nitrogen, before it was ever understood, had divine attributes.  The word for nitrogen has roots in the ancient Egyptian word ntr (also spelled netjeri, netjry, ntrj, or ntry) which originally meant "divine" or "pure."3  But also, as we will eventually explore, nitrogen has additional symbolic and numerological layers to be revealed.  

Evil Spirits Named Bacteria  (Or is it the other way around?)
“Smudging” is an ancient indigenous ritual practiced for untold centuries that involves the burning of sacred herbs and grasses bound together in a thick stalk for the purpose of spiritual cleansing.  The smoke emanating from the glowing embers of the bundle is blown onto a person or throughout a space to clear them of negative energies.  It is an intuitive practice that spans the globe and has no known point of origin.  And while our modern culture may scoff at such esoterics, there is new science to suggest that ancient cultures intuitively knew its earthly benefits, at least in metaphoric terms, though they were not aware of the science behind it.  Or perhaps they knew exactly what they were doing, and the languages of myth happened to be the way the culture chose to describe them.  We should be humbled from thinking that our forebears knew less than we do simply because they are from the past.  Progress is not always a forward continuum.   

A study conducted in 2007 titled, “Medicinal Smoke Reduces Airborne Bacteria,” published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology proved that smudging is an extremely potent form of air purification that removes over 94% of harmful bacteria in the air.4  One could easily imagine how an intuitive experience of the invisible, but highly destructive "germs" could be described as "evil spirits."  And while evil spirits, if they exist, may be repelled by the act of smudging, so are bacteria, we now know.  Or maybe the early shamans intuitively (perhaps even divinely) conceptualized on their own the existence of germs and bacteria, and “evil spirits” is simply how their name for this category of unseen malevolent entity has been handed down to us.  

How did our ancient forbears know this about smudging?  On some level one could reason that they intuited a broader understanding of the benefits of the ritual than they could adequately cognize or describe.  What else might we have described in mythological terms that defied our early understandings, but in hindsight reveal a deeper conceptual awareness of reality than we had previously imagined about ourselves?

Our human mythology has a tendency to fill in the gaps of its understanding with colorful forms and descriptions and characters, which when assembled together as facets of one larger imagining, begin to offer glimpses of what it was that our forebears were really attempting to describe.  There may be more truth to myth than our culture would readily embrace.

The Chaos of Form and Order
Our bodies, like our world, each exist in a state of what might be termed organized chaos.  The delicate balance between oblivion and solidity is achieved by the constant application of forces which are themselves delicately balanced.  The circumstances required for life to begin at all, much less to the level of complexity that we see, explicitly declares that we are a mathematical impossibility, and yet we clearly exist.5  We can infer any number of ideas from this, but one thing is clear: Our highly improbable reality was allowed to manifest and is held in place by something beyond our understanding.  Some force both ongoing and powerful.  One could call that force God, if that is their faith.  Or perhaps they are more comfortable thinking of it in practical, scientific terms like “dark matter.”  Terminology that still manages to retain a degree of mysticism without risking the end user’s skeptical dignity.   And then there is religious but non-specific terminology like “the interdependent web of all things” as the seventh principle of Unitarian Universalism phrases one way of thinking of It.  And we shall spend some time on the divine number seven later.

Regardless of its nomenclature, we are held in awe by the sheer improbability of our existence.  And this fact alone can inspire both humility as well as heresy among us; yet another tension, another chaos.  And when viewed from an objective distance, chaos might appear to have an order of its own.  Perhaps we are attempting to view chaos only in narrow, Newtonian terms rather than from the quantum perspective, where the rules all change from linear to conceptual.  The concept of chaos might be more structured than we imagine.  Perhaps it is Intent that fuels the ordering of the Universe, not rules or forms.  That alone implies a structure that is evident, even if not understood.  And after all, neither water nor air can actually be seen by the human eye.  They can only be inferred by observing the way they affect other things.  Water is not technically visible, only the way it refracts light and color, or moves objects and particulate around.  Likewise air is invisible except for the way we see the evidence of its existence in blowing leaves or the devastation it can wreak.  We may not be able to see God, but we can see what It has wrought in the world and from those observations we may infer either Love or something else.  Only faith can decide which.

The Breath that Controls the Waters
Most of our human creation stories involve water.  This should not be surprising to anyone considering the vast quantities of water we see in the world; even in the composition of our bodies.  Water can exist in three different states, but largely only one of those states—liquid—can create and sustain life.  And yet the liquid state is achieved only with the existence of  pressure, containment.  If pressure is not present, water can exist as a gas only, its most chaotic state.6  In the instance of water here on earth, the oceans, lakes, rivers, even tap water, exist in liquid form only because of the extreme pressure created by our atmosphere.  Our atmosphere, the imaginary dome of which might have been described as the raqia, the Hebrew word used in Genesis for firmament, is held in place by our planet’s gravity and magnetic field working together in their own delicate and improbable balance.  This system is in turn affected and informed by yet another “breath,” the Solar Wind.  These are crucial relationships.  Existence exists because of Relationship.  A balance is struck by a covenant between two entities.  This covenant determines not only the basis for the initial formation of the relationship but informs the parameters for sustaining it as well.  Water exists as a liquid on this planet and gives forth life because of the sacred winds of the atmosphere and radiant energy of the Sun working in tandem.  This too, is a delicate balance that threatens at every minute to implode without the carefully ordered restraint it exhibits.  It is as potentially dangerous and destructive as it it life giving.  Chaos is ordered for a purpose.  

The “God” Number: Seven
As humankind became literate approximately 3,000-3,500 years ago,7 it began to write down the stories of its previously oral traditions.  In doing so, it preserved for posterity a glimpse of the sacred understandings of our earliest cultures.  Embedded within the stories are intuitive understandings of the mechanics behind the balanced tension that must exist for life to flourish.  There are myriad allegorical descriptions of things which science can often now add its two cents to the conversation.  Layers of sacred ideas begin to emanate from amid the numbers and symbols encoded within these myths.  Sociologically, there is much to be inferred from the continued existence of these tales and the enduring facets of their storytelling.  

What appears to be simply the retelling of a lesser fact of a story—a specific number of these, or a recurring theme of that, even the purposeful use and meaning of names—shows itself as a rhetorical tool offering added layers of complexity and meaning once the themes begin to be seen to reappear over and over in other ways and in other tales according to the cultural references they come to represent.  The number seven, for instance, is a significant theme in the Genesis Creation tale.  But not only there.

The number seven has been throughout many cultures associated with the Divine.  Although there are several obvious ones (seven heavens, days of the week, deadly sins, seas, continents, colors of the rainbow, etc.), and myriad appearances in Genesis only some of which we will explore, there are also many lesser known sevens that appear in the pre-Genesis ancient world.  These are a fraction of earlier divine references expressed with the number seven:
  • In the Babylonian story of Atrahasis the earth-destroying flood occurred for seven days8
  • Seven males and seven females were created in the Babylonian creation tale9
  • Persians had the seven horses of Mithra
  • Seven was considered a God number in ancient Egypt. The glyph for gold, which Egyptians believed to be divine and indestructible, as well as associated with the sun god, Ra, had seven spines on its underside.10
  • Egyptians had seven original and higher gods

With the number seven already fixed in the symbolic culture of the era, by 850 BCE when the first documents of what would eventually become the book of Genesis began to emerge, the number seven was a regular character in the sacred stories of the time.  Was this a literary tool, used by choice by the authors of these tales to embed additional layers of meaning and texture?  Or were they circumstances authored by God in order to shed a divine light through the stories; a time capsule to be discovered over the ages by generations of readers?  Perhaps the answer to both of these questions is yes.  We cannot know.  But we can potentially extract meaning from when and where they continue to appear.  If God is speaking to us still, is it in the form of messages left aeons ago that are still waiting to be unearthed?  

Sevens in Genesis: Emphasizing the Hand of God
Now that we have looked at some of the number sevens that appear pre-Genesis, let’s look at the ones in Genesis itself and how they might have influenced the way the first audiences received these tales.  Even the very first line of Bereshit (Genesis 1:1) contains seven words in Hebrew11 (בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ:) It is as if God is saying I Am Here from the very first line.  
Even in the unpacking of the “Breath of Life” Itself, if one chooses to understand it as the workings of the atmosphere, is heavily marked with the number seven.  While there are numerous compounds and elements in the atmosphere, as we have said before, Nitrogen is by far the most plentiful.  

  • Nitrogen gas (N2) is the largest constituent of Earth's atmosphere and constitutes an average volume/weight ratio of approximately 77%.12
  • The element of Nitrogen (7N) is number seven in the Periodic Table of Elements owing to its seven protons.  
  • Nitrogen is estimated to be approximately the seventh most abundant chemical element by mass in the universe, the Milky Way, and the Solar System.
  • And as we mentioned earlier, the word for Nitrogen has its roots in the ancient Egyptian word ntr which originally meant "divine" or "pure."

The number seven also occurs in numerous places throughout what could arguably be seen as God’s re-Creation of the world, the Noah story.
  • The number of the day on which the flood begins is numerologically described as a seven.  600th year of Noah’s life + 2nd month + 17th day = 619; 6+1+9= 16; 1+6=7. (Gen 7:11) The “great deep” opens as well as the “heavens” recombining the waters that were separated by the Breath on the second day of creation.13
  • Noah’s flood ends on a seven.  God’s announcement to Noah that the flood would commence in 7 days [day 1], flood begins [day 8], 150 days of flood [ends on day 158], mountain tops visible 2 months, 14 days later [day 232], waters began to dry on the earth exactly 3 months after first mountain tops are visible [day 302], earth was dry and God spoke to Noah 56 days later [day 358, 3+5+8=16; 1+6=7].14  
  • The waters began to dry from the earth on the first day of Noah’s 7th century (601st year) (Gen 8:13), 3 months to the day from when the tops of the mountains became visible.15
  • The drying period is a seven.  From the end of the flood to the day when the tops of the mountains became visible was 2 months, 14 days (figured as the difference between 7th month, 17th day and 10th month, 1st day. Each month has approx 30 days [29.5 average] according to the Jewish calendar).  2 + 14 = 16; 1 + 6 = 7(16)

In these examples (and the myriad others too numerous to mention here), it appears that the numbers are visible in areas where Divinity might wish to be seen as having a hand in the proceedings.  Perhaps this meta-coincidental series is indicative of God’s full participation in the entire creative destruction process, as oxymoronic (and inherently chaotic) as that word pairing may seem.  In this it is an indication that love exists even amid the terror of destruction and loss.  It gives us a glimpse of the notion that God is not absent from Chaos, but ordering it perfectly, even lovingly, according to Its own understanding of what’s best for humanity.  Chaos might even be God Itself in that Chaos, like God, is beyond both our human comprehensions and lexicons.  Interestingly, so is Love.

Does God Regret Its Creation or Not?
The Biblical J source explicitly states God’s regret twice (Gen 6:6 and 6:7), but P source does not necessarily illustrate God’s displeasure as much as God’s decision to perhaps recalibrate the goodness of the earth by “destroying” it with water.  Perhaps God is choosing to undo a bit of creation in the hopes of making it better.  (Similar to the Mesopotamian water god Enki’s reasoning for causing the flood in the Atrahasis myth.17) Noah and his family are the sole representatives of the new humanity, making it possible to infer that God is not displeased with Its creation of Humanity at large as much as recognizing it needs a bit of tweaking to live up to God’s intentions for it.18  Free will is not contravened so much as it is given new parameters to develop in a healthier way.  Humanity is re-created.19

Perhaps chaos is an invitation to faith.  An order so complex and multidimensional yet imbued so fully with love that it short-circuits our comprehension.  We are compelled by our own need to order the chaos—an aspect of being made in the image of God, perhaps?—that we use metaphor and poetry to describe the quantum actions of God in linear, Newtonesque terms that fall short of satisfying us.  It is unfortunate that our western culture has equated the word myth with the word lie.  For a myth is merely a story, not necessarily an outright falsehood.  Myths often contain clues to reality, opportunities for new hermeneutics, new frames of reference.

From Chaos all Life emerges, all lessons are brought to bear, all mutation is borne. Chaos is our infantile descriptive for what we choose to describe as the unsettled, undecided, un-worded, raw potential from which all reality springs forth.  If Chaos were to be viewed as a substance rather than a state of being, through the examinations of the additional layers of meaning we have just described, we might faithfully conclude it would be a substance with both intelligence and intent.  Perhaps one that we could not understand but that loves us nonetheless and is continuously conspiring on our behalf through the mysterious workings of the Universe.

We are the ongoing product of that love and mystery.  Even our tragedies and terrors, so often used as proof of God’s displeasure in us, might in fact be articulated as evidence for the meta-love of God for Humanity.  If we were to choose to see struggle and chaos as merely the birthplace (and birth pangs) of the long ascendancy process toward a better love among humankind and possibly even the manifestation of the Kingdom of God (a.k.a. Peace on) Earth, might we fare better in the face of these types of events?  Might we be better off to practice the Christian principle of nonresistance a bit more mindfully and know, through a faith learned by careful examination of the layers of our own stories, that all is truly well?  For my part, Love is God, not the other way around.  And as I said earlier in my own version of the Creation myth:

Love knows exactly what to do.  It needs no guidance, no king, no hierarchy, no rules.  Love participates in the uniform divinity of all things and as such, once coalesced into action, requires nothing further to inform It.  Life begins.  

And it is much loved.

Bibliography of Sources

1. Collins, John, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, Minneapolis: Fortress, 2014, p 35
2.  Lavoisier, Antoine Laurent, Elements of chemistry, in a new systematic order: containing all the modern discoveries. Courier Dover Publications, 1965 p. 15.
3. Curwin, David, article: “Niter & Nitrogen,”, July 1, 2008  (accessed Oct 2015)
4. (accessed Oct 2015) referring to a 2007 study by Chandra Shekhar Nautiyal, Puneet Singh Chauhan, Yeshwant Laxman Nene, “Medicinal smoke reduces airborne bacteria.” J Ethnopharmacol. 2007 Dec 3;114(3):446-51. Epub 2007 Aug 28. PMID: 17913417
5. Deamer, David, article: “Calculating The Odds That Life Could Begin By Chance,” April 30, 2009, (accessed Oct 2015)
6. online article, “Why Does Water Boil int he Vacuum of Space,” unatributed, May 2011, (accessed Oct 2015)
7.  Mobley, Gregory, The Return of the Chaos Monsters, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012, p 2 (3,500 years); Mobley, Gregory, The River, Newton: Institution Hill, 2012, p 2 (3,000 years)
8. Collins p 33
9. Collins, p 33
10.  (accessed Oct 2015)
11.  (accessed Oct 2015)
12. Emsley, John, Nature’s Building Blocks, Oxford: Oxford Univ Press, 2011,  p. 360.  Average achieved through the fact that Nitrogen in the atmosphere is 78.082% by volume of dry air, 75.3% by weight in dry air.
13.  Collins, p 54
14. Collins, pp 54-56    Note: This is a combination of elements from both J and P Biblical sources.  The J source alone does not specifically mark the length of the entire flood experience from announcement to dry land, nor does P.  J focuses on the days of the beginning of the flood, while P focuses on the end of it. According to J, from the announcement [day 1], to the beginning of the flood [day 8], to the end of the flood  and the sending out of the dove which came back having found no land [day 48], to the day seven days later when he again sent out the dove which returned this time with an olive branch that evening [day 55] and then waited another seven days [day 62] to send forth the dove again which did not return.  J’s numerology is mostly of of 8’s, the number of the eternal, infinity.  (40 days and 40 nights = 8; 62 total days of flood experience, 6+2=8), although J does state that seven pairs of each clean animal and only one pair of unclean animal are invited aboard the ark.  P only states two of each, be they clean or unclean.  P’s flood experience is described as being 351 days, totaling a 9. P does not mention the announcement as being seven days before the flood (Collins, p 54)  However, when combined (using the P flood length of 150 days in place of J’s 40 days/nights), the number seven emerges again.  Is this relevant to the observation of the editing process which might have found value in the new combination of numbers to total 7?  P does name the creation of the world in 7 days, however. (Mobley, The River, p 28)
15.  Collins, p 56
16.  Collins, p 56
17.  Collins, p 34
18.  Interestingly, the Bubonic Plague of the 14th century had a somewhat similar devastating effect, killing nearly half of Europe.  But following the plague, the occurrence of life expectancy over 70 years of age doubled, and the quality of life increased exponentially.  It is postulated that the Bubonic Plague, caused by the Yersinia pestis bacterium, created a new level of immunity in the human species for those who survived it & their descendants.  So, was the Plague good, or bad?  (Pappas, Stephanie. article: “Black Death Survivors and Their Descendants Went On to Live Longer,” Scientific American, May 8, 2014)
19.  Collins, p 53 Note: This is partially contrary to Mobley’s comment on p 37 in The River that “The flood is a punishment for human wrongdoing.”

NOTE: This academic paper was written as a mid-term for Gregory Mobley's Scripture I class at Andover Newton Theological School, Newton Centre, MA, Fall 2015

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