"There’s no nonstop flight from order to reorder. You’ve got to go through the disorder."
- Richard Rohr
Recently I listened to an episode of On Being, the Peabody Award winning public radio conversation and podcast, hosted by Krista Tippet. Her guest for the episode was Richard Rohr, the Franciscan priest, writer, teacher, and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In the midst of their rich and robust conversation, Fr. Rohr offered a simple metaphor for the path to spiritual transformation. He explained that he tells his students to imagine three boxes:
That's how it works.
The only way to transformation is through each of the three boxes. And as much as most of us cling to the desire for order, often clawing and fighting to keep things neat, orderly, and all buttoned up, we can't leapfrog from order to reorder. That's not how it works. Disorder is part and parcel of the path to transformation. For a deeper dive into Fr. Rohr's wisdom on the subject, I highly recommend listening to the entire On Being episode, as well as reading his thought provoking Falling Upward: A Spirituality For The Two Halves of Life.
Reflecting on his three box metaphor, and juxtaposing it with life as I've come to understand it, his words ring true. It also dawns on me that we are presented with an abundance of opportunities, both grand and small, to practice walking the transformative path. As individuals, partners, families, communities, societies, and even as a species. Some of those opportunities are ours by choice. Most of them are not.
We recently had our great room and kitchen repainted. In the course of just one day, as we moved every single thing from the areas to be painted out onto the deck, we went from order to disorder. Anyone driving up to the house that day would have thought that whoever lived there must have died, and an estate sale was in progress. A week later, new paint on the walls and the painter paid, we began the process of reorder. It was sort of a fun-but-royal pain in the ass. It was also a subtle kick in the ass to arrange life differently. To take the time to put back only those things we love and that serve us well. A couple of trips to the dump and the Goodwill later, our home is in the process of a beautiful transformation. A transformation made possible by the chaos that came before it. Prior to living amidst the disorder, we were unable to see the overcrowded forest for the familiar trees.
The good news is that disorder is always an invitation to put life together differently. When we chose to repaint our walls, we also chose to invite disorder into our lives.
The bad new is, that's not how it usually works. We don't choose disorder. Disorder is thrust upon us.
The landlord informs us that she has decided to sell the house we're renting, and we have 30 days to move.
We fall into bed, desperate for a good night of sleep, and then our baby throws up, spikes a fever, and we are on the phone with the advice nurse at 2am.
At a routine check up, our doctor finds a suspicious lump.
Headed to a crucial meeting, we miss our connecting flight.
We wake up one morning to find that our car has been stolen.
On an evening walk we get hit over the head with the fact that we have been using wine as a coping mechanism for years.
A conversation we thought would turn left, takes a sharp turn to the right.
We suddenly lose a beloved member of our family.
The financial rug gets pulled out from beneath our feet.
We cast our vote on Election Day, and wake up the day after.
That's how it works.
Time to get to work.