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The Universal Pattern

Order, Disorder, Reorder: Part One

The Universal Pattern
Sunday, August 9, 2020

It seems quite clear that we grow by passing beyond some perfect Order, through an often painful and seemingly unnecessary Disorder, to an enlightened Reorder or resurrection. This is the universal pattern that connects and solidifies our relationships with everything around us. This week’s meditations focus on Order, the first in the sequence. We will take a closer look at Disorder and Reorder in the following two weeks.

The trajectory of transformation and growth, as I see the great religious and philosophical traditions charting it, uses many metaphors for this pattern. We could point to the classic “Hero’s Journey” charted by Joseph Campbell; the Four Seasons or Four Directions of most Native religions; the epic accounts of exodus, exile, and Promised Land of the Jewish people, followed by the cross, death, and resurrection narrative of Christianity. Each of these deeply rooted “myths,” in its own way, is saying that growth happens in this full sequence. To grow toward love, union, salvation, or enlightenment, we must be moved from Order to Disorder and then ultimately to Reorder.

A sense of order is the easiest and most natural way to begin; it is a needed first “container.” I cannot think of a culture in human history, before the present postmodern era, that did not value law, tradition, custom, family loyalties, authority, boundaries, and morality of some clear sort. While they aren’t perfect, these containers give us the necessary security, predictability, impulse control, and ego structure that we need, before the chaos of real life shows up. As far as I can see it, healthily conservative people tend to grow up more naturally and more happily than those who receive only freeform, build-it-yourself worldviews.

We need a very strong container to hold the contents and contradictions that arrive later in life. We ironically need a very strong ego structure to let go of our ego. We need to struggle with the rules more than a bit before we throw them out. We only internalize values by butting up against external values for a while. All this builds the strong self that can positively follow Jesus—and “die to itself.” [1]

In our time, many people are questioning and rejecting the institutions, churches, and authority figures that have long provided stability. Looking to the perennial tradition, which has held up over time, can help create a positive “container.” We cannot each start at zero, entirely on our own. Life is far too short, and there are plenty of mistakes we do not need to make—though, of course, there are some that we need to make. We are parts of social and family ecosystems that, when they are rightly structured, keep us from falling. More importantly, these systems show us how to fall and how to learn from that very falling.

[1] Jesus often spoke of the need to die to self; examples include Matthew 10:39; Mark 8:35; Luke 17:33; and John 12:24–25.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent Books: 2019), 243; and

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (Jossey-Bass: 2011), 25‒28.

Image credit: Last Tangle (detail), Leo Valledor, 1976.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: We need a very strong container to hold the contents and contradictions that arrive later in life. —Richard Rohr
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