The Fractal Mystery

The Fractal Mystery

During this holy week, we are immersed into the true heart of the matter for those whose faith is shaped by Jesus:  The fractal mystery.

No, that’s not a typo.  It’s the way I see the deep truth of biblical faith.  We start, of course, with the paschal mystery:  the life, death, and resurrection of Christ are the way God transforms us.  And in the same mythical biblical way, the pascha is the Passover:  God liberates Israel through the transforming Red Sea, where they must die to their old lives under Egypt’s oppressive but alluring rule, and become alive again to life under the God of mystery and covenant and wilderness.

As we plunge ourselves into the story of Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection again, it occurs to me that the paschal mystery of Christ is also the fractal mystery.  Fractals, you may know, are the repeating of patterns into a larger whole.  A small pattern or shape gets repeated and the sum total is a larger picture that has the same shape and characteristics of the small.  A tree is a fractal:  The shape of the whole tree, trunk and branches, is repeated in the larger branches, and again in the smaller branches, and in the twigs.  Each small part tells you what the whole looks like, and the whole is a grand version of the part.

Now, consider these texts that come to us as central words about the paschal mystery:

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. (John 12:24-26)

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. (Mark 8:24-25)

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself…
(Philippians 2:5-7)

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4)

But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2:4-10)

Let your life be a seed like Jesus’ life. Take up your cross and follow.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Jesus. We have already died and are new.    

 It is clear throughout so much of the New Testament, and in much of the Old Testament through similar metaphorical and theological threads, that the paschal mystery that is embodied in Jesus is our very own mystery.  It is the pattern of our own lives, made visible and newly available to us in Christ.  But it is still ours to live, as baptism draws us into the mystery and promises us we can live it by the Spirit’s power.  We are the twigs of the great tree, and the shape of our lives is the same as Christ and is Christ:  Life, death, resurrection.

Note in those readings, this is not just about physical death and hope for life after.  It is about the transformation of our lives in this world, now, today, by faith and the power of the Spirit.  Our old selves drown and get resurrected into new Christ-like selves.  We live in our small, fractal way the large pattern of God’s love, mercy, and justice, which Jesus made the large, clearly visible way of life.

It is tempting in Holy Week and Easter to make the story solely about Jesus and worship him without following him.  It is also tempting to turn it into a lesson solely about ourselves.   But the fractal mystery is that God enacted in Jesus the larger pattern, the shape of truly human life, blessed it, suffered it, and transformed it into newness beyond our comprehension so it can be our own, lived, incarnate love.

Those of us baptized into this paschal mystery give thanks for it and don’t try to solve it or own it or claim it as our own creation.  We gratefully live it, like twigs on a tree, constantly looking to the great cypress in which we live and grow, whose strong, rough roots hold us at the water’s edge, whose green leaves give us energy, whose branches reach up to the glorious sun giving praise for the light.


  1. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I've been struggling with a way to approach the resurrection in a way that both: A. Affirms my belief in the resurrection and my hope for our own physical resurrection and that B: Will address my overly intellectual parish (bordering on deists these fine folks are). I was told by my wise confessor to appeal to their sense of intellect and here you have it with the wonder of fractals! Thank you again. And blessings on your ministry and Happy Easter. He is risen! He is risen! He is risen indeed!

  2. I'm having trouble posting. Please feel free to delete duplicates.

    Fractal faith!! I blogged about this too back in January. It's such a useful construct for exploring the wending, winding development of our faith lives! Great post.


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