The Butterfly Effect
written by Rev Gary Heard

The 2004 movie “The Butterfly Effect” gains its title from a particular aspect of chaos theory, which caused one meteorologist to suggest that “if the theory were correct, one flap of a seagull's wings could change the course of weather forever.” In simple terms it suggests that even the smallest change can have significant longer-term implications. A corollary might be the recognition that we do not always understand the connection between events.

Our penchant for breaking aspects of life up into categories stands in stark contrast to the notion of connectedness of all things. When we break life into secular/sacred, public/private, good/evil or other divides, we provide ourselves comfort that they are binary opposites, separated by an impenetrable border. Henri Nouwen’s reflection: “But anyone trying to live a spiritual life will soon discover that the most personal is the most universal, the most hidden is the most public, and the most solitary is the most communal,” invites us to consider the inextricable links between all aspects of life. Using a different metaphor, the apostle Paul tells us that we reap what we sow – that our public lives will reflect our private.

When we reflect on the theological term “atonement”, we initially think that it is a way in which God has restored our relationship with himself – paying the price of the breech (sin) – a private transaction. Yet atonement might also be broken into its component parts: at-one-ment… being made one with God, but also bringing unity to the whole of life. We might well consider the word ‘integrity’ in this way as a synonym. God wants us to be whole people, not a sum of component parts for which he provides that which falls through the gaps.

I know that failing to give sufficient personal time diminishes my capacity to be there for others. I recognise how the things that I read shape my thoughts when I am with others. I know that failure to give attention to my spiritual journey in the private moments affects the ways in which I view and engage with events and people of my days. There is a butterfly effect, which also flows in the other direction: it is the things of life which shape the questions and concerns I bring to prayer. It is the physical shape I am in which impacts the quality of reflective time. We are whole people, and need to ensure that we give attention to every part of life as an act of worship and service to God.

When the apostle Paul challenged the Corinthians christians “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”(1 Cor. 10:31), he challenged a mindset by which the Corinthians had absolved themselves of responsibility in different aspects of their lives. Paul encouraged them to see everything they did as their “spiritual service of worship”. To see all that we do as connected to our life in God is to affirm that god is involved in every part of life.

February 26, 2006
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