Good morning. My name is Ms. Konek.
For those who don't know me, I’ve been part of the middle school faculty here at Forest Ridge for more than 20 years, and most of that time has been spent with 7th graders and in the science lab, or this year, in the tent outside the Shop. However, I am also someone who feels deeply connected to the Mission of the Schools of the Sacred Heart, and I am grateful to be able to share some thoughts with you as we celebrate the Feast of my favorite Saint--Madeleine Sophie Barat—or Sophie, as she was always known to those close to her.
And the word I feel most compelled to share with you today is-- Chaos. I know that’s probably not a topic you’d expect at a liturgy, but don’t worry, I’ll get us back to St. Sophie. Please, bear with me, and my chaos.
I am so done with all the news about the “unprecedented” events in these last couple of years. An unprecedented pandemic. Unprecedented political upheaval. Unprecedented gun violence. Even unprecedented weather—at one point this year, our campus tried to landslide down the hill. Enough with the unprecedented. I say—“bring back precedented times!”
But even as I say that, I know it’s silly. First of all, you really can’t go back—life will never be the same as it was before any of these unprecedented things happened. We can only move forward in life. And then there’s the reality check that while there may have been some periods of more relative calm in history, depending of course on where you lived and what your perspective was, human history has been one unprecedented set of times after another. In fact, the only reliable “norm” for human history probably is upheaval and struggle and, well, chaos.
I was listening to one of my favorite science podcasts a couple months ago, and they were talking about some experiments that had been done to tackle the question of chaos vs. order in the universe. One exploration was done with seawater—specifically some seawater that had been accidentally forgotten for 6 months in a sealed barrel, with no human interaction-- the only input was light. This happened, by the way, in Germany at the time the Berlin Wall fell, and the scientists had gotten distracted by some pretty chaotic times of their own. When they got back to the barrel, knowing their experiment parameters were long past and expecting that there wouldn’t be much life left in this sealed container, they were going to dump it out. But at the last minute, out of curiosity, took a look at a sample of that water under a microscope. And they were stunned to find that life was thriving there—phytoplankton and zooplankton and bacteria—this ecosystem was alive and well.
One scientist decided to see what would happen if this seawater continued to be left with no input other than light. He wondered what kind of order could be found in the development, dominance and extinction of species in this tiny universe. Would it be more of a line—a progression of species, where those with the best adapted characteristics would become the evolutionary winners? Would it be more of a cycle, where things would dominate, but then run out of resources, die out, and others emerge--a kind of “circle of life” pattern? So, he checked samples from this barrel regularly for over 6 years! And he found that the pattern of life, the system that controlled what was happening in that tiny universe--was no pattern, no system. It was chaos. There was no way of predicting what would happen next, no way of predicting what would cause catastrophe, no real way to make sense of it at all.
That was hard for me to hear. As is true for many of us who work in science, I am uncomfortable with the idea that chaos might actually be the order of the universe. I personally like to be able to tackle problems with systems, draw conclusions based on evidence, and find answers that make sense and order of my world. You all know—Claim, Evidence, Reasoning—a nice tidy package. Right? I want there to be precedented times again once we get through this hard stuff. But the thing I finally realized about this frustrating barrel of water is, although there was primarily chaos, there was something predictable. There reliably, almost inexplicably, continued to be life. Life itself was overcoming chaos to grow and thrive.
And that was one of those “aha” moments for me. Rather than wait for my life to get back to the way it was before the pandemic, or count down the days until the current hard things will be over, or expect it to somehow all line up and make sense to me again, I need to engage in my life, right now, as it is. This. Here. Now. I need to go forward, and I may need to adapt. I need to allow myself to grow and thrive in new ways. And here is where I get back to St. Sophie.
Sophie did not live in easy times. She was born 2 months premature in the late 1700s, when being born that early was not guaranteed survival, at all. And meanwhile, the little French town where her family lived was burning down around their home. Sophie remained medically fragile throughout her life, but she lived to be 86 years old. Sophie also lived through multiple revolutions in France and upheaval in the leadership of the Catholic church. Her brother, a priest, was imprisoned and sentenced to death, and only was saved by another unpredictable shift in power. Not to mention, the improbability of a woman of Sophie’s time gaining any kind of authority and choice about the direction of her life.
But Sophie got busy living right away. She soaked up a formal education, she listened to her own heart above what others told her about God and about the right path ahead, and she decided to dedicate her life to spreading Love, in particular spreading Love through education to other young women. She did that one step at a time. One child at a time. One heart at a time. By deciding to get out into the messy word, rather than step away or step back, Sophie started something small that now includes over 150 schools, across 41 countries, something that we are a part of here and now. Sophie met chaos with the predictability of life going on, and the belief that Love is always stronger than fear.
Yes, these times we are in are unprecedented, and often dark, and we may not ever be able to go back. But we also can’t give up, or wait for someone else to fix it. The solution is not to throw up our hands and say, “it is what it is--there’s nothing we can do, so why bother.” That’s not the lesson from the barrel. The lesson of the barrel, the model from St. Sophie says, “It is—It Most Definitely Is—So, what are we going to do about it.” Because life goes on, And if we choose to live with Love as our center, as Sophie chose to do, then really we just have to focus on: “what is the next best thing? What can I do next to spread a little Love?” For myself. For my community. For my world. And then, we see where that takes us. Chaos may be the order of the universe, but Love is the path through it, and we don’t have to walk that path alone.
As Sophie said to us: Go on advancing, you are on the true road. Remember, it is not you who have taken it, but God who has placed you there. Walk truthfully and may nothing in the world be able to dishearten you. Give your heart, once and for all, to love and trust.
Thank you all for walking the path with me. Here. Now.