Tuesday, August 16, 2011


   Fractal:  To my memory this is not a word I had ever heard, for SURE not a word I had ever used, before reading William Young's Christian fiction novel The Shack.  You can read this disturbed girl's review of the book here.
   For now I'd love to concentrate on this mentioned concept that is both mathematical and artistic and delve a bit into what the author might have been getting at by comparing our human spirit to a wild garden, which itself is a fractal.

Webster's definition: 
frac-tal   \'frac-tel\  (noun) 
"any of various extremely irregular curves or shapes
for which any suitably chosen part is similar in shape
to a given larger or smaller part
when magnified or reduced to the same size."

   Still with me?  We're basically groovin' on patterns here.  Complex but rhythmic, easily analyzed patterns.  Self-repeating patterns that sort of defy traditional geometry.

Fractal Art Wallpaper

   William Young spent the better part of a chapter trying to relay the image, sans illustrations, of a garden that at first glance seemed wildly unkempt, messy, even failed.  But as his characters conversed, it became increasingly apparent that the garden was right on track, growing at just the exact rate and with just the perfect amount of craziness that the gardener intended.  The gardener delighted in the messiness and refused to label it as imperfect or flawed, just beautiful.

Wild Garden - October, 2009

   Photocredit:  http://www.ourhappyacres.com/

     Being personally and unashamedly obsessed with gardens of every variety, this naturally caught my attention.  This type of metaphor serves well in many settings, and to think of my soul, my non- physical self, being understood as a wild but beautiful place is, well, it is really enticing.

   In the book, it was only when viewed from above (heaven?) that the boundless chaos of that garden fell into a recognizable system of shapes and images, of texture and color.
   The whole picture could be taken in view and seen as beautiful, and then the patterned components could be enjoyed as well.


   Like my own Oklahoma gardens, which even on their best days are a bit on the wild side, my spirit is probably less orderly than most.  Even at 37 I mean 25 I am still brimming with confusion and questions, still wandering a bit more than I would like some days.

   About a thousand years ago when I was a retail banker, I had a customer who was an artist.  We became acquainted enough for me to hear one day her theory that everything in nature mimics something else in nature.  For example, examine the shapes in a spray of ocean coral.  it is so similar to the patterns in our own blood capillaries!  And these, together with the dead trees of winter, are so reminiscent of nerve endings.  The comparisons go on and on.  It is dizzying to think of how much rhythm and repetition, combined with riotous, endless creativity, is abounding in nature.  And it is humbling to see how much can be traced back to the human form.
   Whatever your proclaimed faith, I would bet my morning coffee you can sit in awe of the beauty of nature.

   Have you ever seen Mandala art?  It is sometimes used as a form of meditation in the Hindu and Buddhist cultures.  Not worship, just a physical activity, guided enough to be focused but certainly freeing enough to allow for all manner of expression and intepretation. 
   I used to have a Mandala coloring book when my girls were very small, then knowing nothing about the religious implications, just intuitively relishing in the circles, the repetition, the blankness that begged for filling.

   In reading more about fractals I remembered the mandala and cannot help but sense the common ground here.  Maybe there is a cosmic message to be found regarding circular motion, patterns, and following that inarticulate voice.

   And how interesting that a Christian writer used this global mainstay to help his readers visualize the human spirit.  I think it is a beautiful use of imagination.

   We are all some combination of rigid and loose; we all have the capacity for both discipline and creativity.  In fact, I believe these two rely upon the other to really thrive.  Give some thought to the state of your spirit, your soul, your garden.  Acknowledge the Gardener and find beauty where before you loathed your perceived shortcomings.

   You are complex and amazing. 
You are loved more than you know. 
You have a ways to go.



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