I believe our world is broken.
I believe our reality includes suffering, chaos, loss, and death.
I believe it wasn’t meant to be this way.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
WB Yeats “The Second Coming”
Anarchy is loosed upon the world. As in every age, this age seems ruled by the headlines. ISIS, Leukemia, divorce, war.
Partisan hatred, global warming, spiraling health costs, corrupt institutions.
Young men so devoid of purpose they grasp at fundamentalist straws. Crowded cities conceal suicidal loneliness. Young women defined by ad agencies, dying to be thin.
Those south of the equator dying from too little food, those north of it from too much.
I believe it wasn’t meant to be this way.
The falcon spins away from the falconer in the widening gyre. Society, decency, kindness, gentleness, overwhelmed by division, violence, hatred, ignorance.
But I believe it wasn’t meant to be this way, and Yeats catches himself in a contradiction. The falcon turns away in an ever widening gyre. Let’s back up a bit. A gyre is a spiral, extended into space in three dimensions. A gyre has structure, mathematical perfection, elegance. A gyre is the opposite of anarchy.
If we look at the falcons’s gyre, or the arrangement of petals on a flower, or the shell of a chambered nautilus, we find a numerically perfect order, or logic, which in mathematics is called the Golden Proportions.
The golden proportions are defined by a simple series of numbers: 0 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 55 89….. Add two numbers together, and it creates the next number in the sequence. This series of numbers is called the Fibonacci sequence. Divide any number by the number before it, and the result comes out approximating an infinitely long number that starts with 1.618033988749894848204586834. This number is the golden proportion. The further out you go in the sequence, the closer the ratio comes to the golden proportion.
What does the golden proportion have to do with chaos, a broken world, and surgery?
It turns out, the Fibonacci sequence and resulting golden proportion are more than a mathematical curiosity. If we look to nature, we find this order, this organizing principle, everywhere. Subatomic particles arrange themselves according to the golden ratio. Galaxies rotate in values proportional to the Fibonacci sequence. Plant leaves arrange themselves, nautilus shells spiral, pine cones, roses and sunflowers all dance to the music of the golden proportion. Computer programs and search engines rely on the Fibonacci sequence. Most remarkably for me, the length of the bones in our hands follows a Fibonacci sequence, so as we make a fist, we echo the grace of the spiraling nautilus shell.
So the falcon, even as he ascends away from the falconer, even as things fall apart, describes an arc which betrays the underlying grace and structure of his being.
How can this be? How can this world of chaos reveal an underlying structure, an underlying organizing principle?
I believe a clue to this mathematical marvel can be found in the Bible:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
This beautiful poem was originally written in Greek, and is the opening verse of the Gospel of John. The word “word” was originally written as the Greek word “logos.” We don’t have an exact translation of “logos” into English, but it is the word from which we get logic. The idea of logos is structure, order, the premise upon which everything else follows.
You’ll notice that the opening verse of this poem is identical to the opening of the Hebrew book of Genesis, the opening words of the Bible: “In the beginning…”
This puts us intentionally at the beginning of time, the beginning of existence, physicists would say at the moment of the big bang. And the author of the Gospel of John tells us that God was there, in the form of order, in the form of an organizing principle, in the vibration and spin of the subatomic particles that would give rise to galaxies, stars, planets, earth, and life.
The Logos was there at the beginning, and the darkness has not overcome it. The falcon’s gyre is ever widening, he cannot hear the falconer, but even in his betrayal, he cannot escape the inherent order of his being as he ascends in a graceful spiral. This world was created, by whatever means you may believe, but I believe it was created for order.
The Jewish and Christian faiths share what anthropologists call their “creation myth.” Myth in this sense is a technical term which means a story of ancient and important truth. We tend to use the term to mean untrue, mythical, like bigfoot. But anthropologist recognize that creation myths hold great truth for their culture.
The Judeo-Christian creation myth began as an oral tradition, and was eventually written down as the book of Genesis. Christians believe it is inspired revelation, and there are various interpretations as to how it should be read. Regardless of interpretation, we see a world created in Logos, in order, in perfection. Only when mankind chose pride, knowledge, and power over kinship with the Logos did things fall apart, and mere anarchy was loosed upon the world.
So I believe our world is broken. It was created for logos, for order, for perfection, for shalom. But separation from the Logos, the creator, leaves us with mere anarchy.
This would all seem a bit dark, but for one thing. Christians also believe that the Logos, the organizing principle of the universe, returned, and entered human history, entered time and space, as a human being. He entered this world of anarchy, and by perfect Logos, perfect order entering this world, he redeemed it. He began the process of restoring it to its rightful state. He didn’t come only to save souls, to redeem individuals, but to redeem creation itself.
What would this look like, a redeemed creation? I can’t begin to imagine. It’s easier for me to imagine what it is not: it is not suffering, it is not loss, it is not loneliness or death, it is not painful separation from our creator.
From the standpoint of a surgeon, a redeemed creation does not include broken femurs, shattered pelvis’, or children with bone infections or incurable tumors.
There is no doubt in my mind that we live in a dark world, but I take hope in the fact that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Yeats stumbles again when he declares that “the best lack all conviction.” I believe this is precisely where he was wrong, and I believe this is precisely how the darkness cannot overcome the light. God calls us to be that light, to work with and be part of the Logos, the redemption of this broken world. He calls us not to lack conviction, but to stand convicted. To struggle in the chaos,to lose our way, but in our efforts describe the breathtaking spiral of love, compassion and beauty we were created for.
For a surgeon this means working to restore the order of the human body, approximating the way the Logos intended it to be. It means healing those who can be healed, and comforting those who cannot. It means teaching others to view their job as their calling, as a priesthood, as a privileged servant-hood allowing us to shine the light of God’s love into the darkness of suffering. It means being the light to those overcome by the darkness as we cling to the hope of the redeemer, the centre that will always hold.