Nov. 18, 2013
What do Humpty Dumpty, dinosaurs, and the London Underground all have in common? A lot according to Margaret Silf in her recent book The Other Side of Chaos: Breaking Through When Life Is Breaking Down (Loyola Press, 2011). Margaret Silf is a Scots-woman, wife and mother. A former technical author in the computer industry turned spiritual director; she trained with the Jesuits of the British Province. Her numerous books and articles consistently attract a wide audience offering wisdom and wit for 21st century spiritual pilgrims.
The Other Side of Chaos is creative and fresh in its exploration of change and transition; not an easy task given that amazon.com currently boasts over 29,000 books on this topic! Margaret is passionate and her passion is contagious. Early in the text she urges us to develop an authentic “spirituality of transition” as we face life’s inevitable changes constructively, creatively and confidently.
So, what do Humpty Dumpty, dinosaurs, and the London Underground all have in common? Margaret uses these humorous and creative metaphors as she journeys with us to the other side of chaos. Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. Dinosaurs became extinct. Both were experiences of cataclysmic breakdown. Despite all the King’s men Humpty Dumpty could not be put back together again. Sometimes breakdowns cannot be mended. But in the majority of cases breakdowns, even those as phenomenal as the demise of dinosaurs, actually lead to breakthroughs! Our planet today, even our very existence as the human race, attests to the fact that breakdowns have the potential for breakthroughs of unimaginable scope!
And what of the London Underground? Margaret knowing our familiarity with the warning to “mind the gap” when exiting the London Underground, likens the gap to that period of transition, that space-in-time existing between our breakdowns and breakthroughs. We are to mind the gap/transition not avoid it as we exit at a new station or phase in our lives.
The Other Side of Chaos explores change and transition in small, sure steps. Short chapters with questions for reflection scattered throughout, invite us to absorb the text’s wisdom and wit in bite size pieces. Chapter titles such as “When the Traveler is Ready, the Bridge Appears,” “God Bless his Mess,” and “Can Bad News Be Good News?” keep our curiosity alive and grounded as we traverse the landscape of breakdowns on the way to breakthroughs.
Mid-text I encountered my favorite chapter; “A Fly on the Face of the Mona Lisa.” Just as a fly walking across this work of art has absolutely no chance of making sense of what is below its feet; we too, when in the midst of change and transition, often perceive only one small piece of the whole experience! “Life is always bigger than the situation we are in. Remembering that truth is a large part of what it takes to work through change and transition” (p. 89).
The Other Side of Chaos will reward all who read it! From its first to last page Margaret exudes confidence that while transitions are messy and chaotic, God’s Spirit is always alive and present! Her work encourages all of us, no matter where we are in our life’s journey, to harness our resilience, ingenuity and humor as we move from breakdown to breakthrough – to the other side of chaos!
Mary Pat Garvin, RSM, Ph.D. has worked for over twenty years with religious congregations, nationally and internationally, in the area of initial and on-going formation, facilitation and consultation. Presently, Mary Pat serves on the Institute Leadership Team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.