Embrace Chaos


This is a guest post by Michelle Francl-Donnay for Week Seven of An Ignatian Prayer Adventure.

If I had a Latin motto posted over my office door it might be Conplecte abyssum—embrace chaos, or more literally, entwine yourself into the depths. At the start of each semester my students face what I imagine seems to them an enormous writhing mass of primordial information, which they must dive into, come to know, and ultimately recognize in new situations. It’s not always a comfortable space to inhabit.

Ignatius charges us in the third movement of his Spiritual Exercises to embrace chaos, to know confusion, and to be present to the difficult. Pray, he says, for the grace to know sorrow, regret, and confusion, because the Lord is going to his passion for my sins. These are not comfortable contemplations, and I am finding them particularly challenging to engage with in the middle of my routine life. This morning between dropping off 140 tea sandwiches for the seventh grade language arts party and a midday consultation with a student, I spent an hour sitting in the back pew of my parish church, my mind fixed on what was happening on Calvary. It was a jarring shift of perspective.

As I walked into town for my meeting later, I thought about how difficult it was to move from threading my way through a mass of effervescent middle schoolers into the Passover crowds in Jerusalem, and to walk away from Jesus’ body in his mother’s lap out onto to the sidewalks of Bryn Mawr. Maybe it would have been better to keep these contemplations for the seclusion and quiet my study offers late at night?

Waiting for the pedestrian signal, I notice the woman standing next to me, with a half-dozen shopping bags awkwardly crammed with her belongings, the jaunty turquoise hat on her head belies her burdens. A gentleman, underdressed for the weather and engaged in an animated discussion with people I cannot see, barrels down the block. A woman with a strained expression on her face clutches a manila folder as she walks out of the doctor’s office and turns the corner toward the hospital.

I recall St. Augustine’s advice about contemplating the passion: “You suppose that having said ‘I cried out to you,’ you are somehow done with crying out. But even though you have cried out, you must not expect relief to come quickly. The agony of the Church and of the Body of Christ will last until the end of time.”

Suddenly I am aware that the dividing line between Lancaster Avenue and the road to Calvary is not as sharp as I once imagined. The paschal mystery plays out here as well as in Jerusalem; the Body of Christ suffers in front of me now. Can I be present to Christ’s suffering, even now? Can I continue to cry out my sorrow, my regret?

These are the depths that I have let become entwined in my life. This is the grace of the Third Week: to stand by the cross on which the body of Christ hangs and not look away.


  1. This written piece felt so real for me at this time, right now, right here as I sit in my car awaiting my appointment. To say it spoke to my heart would minimize the impact I experienced. Bless you!!!

  2. Michelle, this reflection came at exactly the right time for me. The Body of Christ does stand in front of me in my own extended family and all that God is asking is to be present. Thank you so much for these inspired and inspiring words.

  3. These words could not be truer today… I appreciate the reminders as teleworking for both of us and distance learning for our child has definitely created chaos, but so much less than those struggling to survive the disease or those who cannot make ends meet at this time. Thank you!

  4. Michelle, thank you so much for this article! It is no coincidence that I read your words, reflected on the Cross with new understanding, and then, found out that a friend’s father was admitted to Hospice. She is having a difficult time with this admission, and, I know that your words will help her to see this chaos through the the eyes of faith. Thank you, and thank God! Amen.

  5. Michelle,
    What a joy to revisit your post on this Good Friday!
    Thank you, for the untold graces you have given me, by the opportunity to reflect on your words.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the Paschal mystery observed in everyday life.
    Peace to you, especially on this Good Friday.

  6. By accepting chaos I should say – it will eliminate all other forces that will come around to have yourself focus on what is the present to do what is right for the time, the situation or condition called for as it will lead you to the what follows…


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