The root word is the Greek trope – meaning “to turn” – you can apotrope, to turn away – you can entrope – to turn around. Entrope can also mean to shame someone, or to reverence another. So what is the thought connection between turning around, shaming, and reverence? My guess is this: To “turn around” is to turn from one orientation toward another. If it is also turning toward shame, this would be a degradation of ego. What is required of reverence but a degredation of focus on ego – a turning away from self and toward that which (or the one who) is the object of reverence. To put it together then, when we reverence God, we are turning away from focus on self-preservation, self-glorification, self-centeredness. This is a form of shame, not in the modern pejorative sense of feeling that one is of no worth or value, but in the relative sense of humility before something or someone. When we consider the massive expanse of the cosmos, and the intricacy of the subatomic structures, and everything in between, we are shamed – i.e. humbled.
How does this connect with our modern understanding of entropy as a steady eroding of complexity toward annihilation? I think that we are so focused on the self, on the ego, on “self-esteem”, that when we consider that the world does not revolve around us, this feels like a degradation of self.The child who is accustomed to being the center of all family energy, love and attention then goes to school and realizes that he is just one of 18 who also want to be the center of attention. This is experienced as a loss of self (though a false self). It is experienced as degradation. “If I am not the center of everything, then nothing has any meaning. If the world does not revolve around me, then who and what am I? I am nothing.” This painful experience is nonetheless vitally important for progress toward maturity. It is also essential in our journey toward spiritual maturity and life in God. We can not love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength when our own sense of self stands in that place. And yes, this experience is painful for many. It involves grief, fear, anxiety.
The good news is that on the otherside of this liminal space, this no man’s land where we are adrift, on the other side is God. Throughout our lives we experience a series of little deaths with each letting go of what we thought, how we saw the world and our place in it. This journey of life is entirely liminal, from birth to death we are in between two incomprehensible mysteries (from whence we come and whither we go), while we stand in the midst of a third that is partially visible and comprehensible. We can choose (and are taught) to be anxious about all of this uncertainty. Someone has decided that uncertainty is bad and certainty is good. Unfortunately, this is untrue. Certainty does not even exist – it is an illusion, a hologram, a mirage. The sooner we let go, or the more we are progressively able to let go of small bits of this falsehood, the more we move into a place of peace and contentment and rest, a place of faith, grace, blessedness. Paul says that we are to be “transformed by the renewing of [our] minds.” (Romans 12:2)
The Psalmist speaks of this cycle of life, all of which is in God’s hands:
24 O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. 25 Yonder is the sea, great and wide, creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great. 26 There go the ships, and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it. 27 These all look to you to give them their food in due season; 28 when you give to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. 29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. 30 When you send forth your spirit, they are created; and you renew the face of the ground. (Ps 104)
I think it would be a mistake to conclude (though perhaps the psalmist did) that God orders and orchestrates the causes and moments of decay and entropy – as though God decided who would die in a hurricane, which child would get cancer, etc. If everything is ordered in this way, then it is not entropy at all, but simply everything going according to plan. Suffice it to say for now that I believe this belief, while comforting to some because it suggest “at least someone is in control,” is contrary to the broad witness of the bible. Rather I think God has so ordered creation, “programmed in” a design, a series of options and possibilities that then play out in their own way. Grace and Mercy are manifest in that God is present in the midst of all of this, calling us forward into life and a faith that new life comes out of decay.
I happened upon three signs this morning that actually prompted me to board this train of thought.
A cricket carcass, being consumed by ants.
A rat carcass, being consumed by mold spores.
What these graphic images clearly show is that death is not a finality – the very experience of entropy provides the energy for new life to be born, grow, and progress, ultimately also to decay. We see this so clearly with plant material, leaves, grass clippings, carrot tops and lettuce cores what we cast into a mulch pile and next year spread on our gardens. Yet somehow we have convinced ourselves taht as human beings we should be above and outside of this natural system.
What A sign left by the intersection of Mockingbird and Hwy 75.
I do not yet know what it means that this third image was with the other two. I actually saw it yesterday evening and almost picked it up – it felt sacred and holy somehow, as though retrieving it, honoring it, were a form of prayer for the person who had discarded it. I left it, and saw it again this morning, but folded over so I had to adjust it with my foot in order to read it. Only then did I see the rat, and the cricket, and the message began to clarify. These three are related somehow. The cricket and the rat tell us something about the sign, about the life of the person who wrote it, and about all of us. Does it say that we thrive on the decay of others – that my existence is at the expense of another. Possibly. Does it say that human decay is not so unlike that of all creation? Perhaps. Does it say, “Well, that’s nature, so don’t bother trying to resist it or help them?” No, for all living things resist the very entropy that is a part of their nature.
Some things it does say: God is in the midst of it. Death is not the final word. New life comes after loss. We do not cease to exist, but rather are transformed into something new. And the Christian faith proclaims that this process of transformation is something that can begin in this life, and that embracing our entropy, giving thanks for it, is the path to life.
Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:24). If you are wanting to know how to live this way, I would love to journey together with you.