Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
July 2022 - Volume 22, No. 7
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Chaos & Creativity

Not long ago I came across an idea that chaos and creativity are closely related. And the idea stuck with me and continues to fascinate me.

Two Creation accounts

First let me consider two major creation accounts. For example, in our Holy Bible’s Genesis account, things began with the earth “a formless void” which could be translated from the Hebrew as ‘trackless void and emptiness’. And from this God began the work of creation, speaking each part into existence. “And God said….” and affirming each stage as “good.” From that ‘beginning’ emerges the ongoing rise and fall of the divine ongoing narrative of the People of God into which each of us is born (or placed), ourselves subject to (suffering and benefiting) ongoing cycles of chaos and creativity.

I am fortunate to have been given into a Native American (Anishinabe) Creation Narrative[1]. It also begins with chaos (a cold ooze), a close beginning to the Genesis account. Creator looks down and with some disgust speaks out “Whatever shall I do with that!” And Creator’s word echo back “Do with that, do with that.” Upon which Creator decides, “That’s it! I will DO something with that.” Hence begins the sacred narrative of the Creation of the Universe, and in particular concluding with the Creation of ‘purposeful action’ as it’s gift to the heart of each hearer. What a wonderful ethic for a people to live by!

Chaos & Creativity

Much of my counseling work involves working with people in chaos. Life simply isn’t working, and the resulting pain and/or dysfunction precludes a satisfaction or functional life. And at the same time, living and growing involves the wresting out of various developmental or circumstantial tensions.

Some years ago a couple came to see me, and each noted ‘we never fight.’ Now it may have been that they have more peaceful means of gaining sync with each other, but my initial hunch was to double their fee, saying to myself, ‘this is going to involve a lot of work’. In truth, each was terrified of conflict, and their relationship was dying a slow death.

But in a wider perspective, we are living in a world of widening divisions, at social, political, and economic levels. As the poet William Butler Yeats wrote many years ago, “the center cannot hold.”[2]

One of the more popular psychiatric diagnoses of these past many years has been ‘Bi-polar disorder.’ The rhythmic balancing between opposite moods (cf depression & mania) can often be managed as long as there’s a functioning center to the pendulum swing. However in our culture, the center is more and more missing, and ‘there’s nothing to hold things together. I have wondered for years how it is that legislative decisions (especially in Congress) are decided so totally “along party lines.” Is there no conversation, no debating, no consideration of opposites? It’s one thing to be a ‘divided’ country. It’s another thing that there is so little or no dialogue between the divisions.

Even our currently re-established Supreme Court seem to operate on political rather than legal divisions. Their ‘center’ has been sold out to politics. And we are right to be afraid.

To reach across

It seems to me that this term is getting lost in our legislative circles. I only seem to hear it in retrospective terms when someone is retiring. A lost art.

I’ve written in another Newsletter about the American Field Service, by whom in High School I was fortunate to be a Summer exchange student. AFS was born within a volunteer battlefield ambulance corp created in 1915. Their motto “walk together, talk together, all ye peoples of the earth, and you shall have peace.” It’s been teaching youth to do this for 107 years now. If young people can learn to “reach across” there’s still hope.

So let me go back to where I began.

Chaos is not just chaos - It’s the bedrock for (new) Creation

When the world is falling apart at the seams, two realities are present:

1) It’s a time for people especially to “reach across” to each other.
When I wrote above of the Jewish/Christian story of Creation - what emerges is a Biblical ethic: God first, the Neighbor also first. It’s the structure of the Ten Commandments. It’s the structure of Jesus’ new commandment - ‘that you love one another.’ And in a metaphoric manner, it’s the bedrock of the New Creation - in our Bible, called the “Kingdom.”

And it doesn’t necessitate any specific ‘religious language.’ It just means to look across and see each other - as if they are real, and important.

And you may ask what do I mean here by ‘creation’. It’s where one plus one is three. Whenever we’re willing to make a relationship with an ‘other’ it creates a third entity, which is the relationship. (In a marriage, it’s the marriage itself - a third thing.)

2) Chaos and Creation at a personal level.
I believe that much of my ‘success’ as a therapist is that I trust necessary chaos. (That doesn’t mean I like or enjoy it.) When people are willing to work through (rather than try to avoid) their chaos, I’m used to seeing newness of life emerge. My work is in a sense to ‘midwife’ that transformation, that creativity.

So when I heard from another source that at a deep level chaos and creativity can be a vital combination (not as an absolute rule, but a deep combination) I held onto it for some weeks, and it emerges as a helpful truth. And for me, to discover it’s been a part of my life for a long time now.

I hope this platform is helpful for your navigating such times as ours. And for such purpose I share it with you.

Pay attention.


[1] The Anishinabe (Ojibwe) Creation story is one of a number of their Sacred Stories, in that it is not to be written or recorded except in the speaking heart and mind of the storyteller (sacred carrier), and so to be shared only in the context of sacred ceremony. So to have borrowed a few lines from it into print form here is ‘illegal’ - and I beg the indulgence of the spirits (and place tobacco) for the purpose of celebrating for outsiders a piece of the Native American heritage and ethic of purposeful action.
I am also reminded that our (Jewish/Christian) worship/storytelling/ethic is designed to be shared primarily within sacred time and territory (not in the middle of a football field).

[2] A phrase from his poem "The Second Coming" (1919) written in another time, in some ways like our own, post World-war I Europe.

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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