I know a family who has a summer practice of “Solving the Puzzle.” Throughout the summer, there is always a partially-completed jigsaw puzzle on a card table that takes up summer residence in the corner of their family room.
The puzzle – a different one every summer (and part of the fun is seeing who can bring home the most challenging one to work on) — begins its reconstruction on a designated Sunday afternoon, with everyone sitting around the card table working on it. But thousand-piece puzzles can take hours (or even a whole summer) to complete, and after a while Mom has to get dinner on the table and Dad wants to read the newspaper, and the teenagers have urgent text messages to answer.
Thereafter throughout the summer, the puzzle sits quietly and beckoningly on the card table in the corner of the family room. Every time a family member walks by, he or she stops, looks at the puzzle from a variety of angles, picks up a piece, says, “Oh, it goes right here,” places the piece, and moves on. The person who inserts the last piece of the puzzle is the winner and is treated to a DQ sundae. But of course the last piece only fits when all the other pieces are already there, so then everyone gets a DQ sundae.
“But that’s the spiritual life,” reflected a friend to whom I was relating this. “Everyone has a piece of the puzzle. We have to see everyone’s piece or the puzzle is not complete.”
Some of us have a hard time envisioning God’s Kingdom come while it is still under construction; the Kingdom doesn’t really come in a box with a picture on the front, even though we would like it to be that way. We each have a piece of the puzzle but only a piece, and we begin to think that everyone’s piece looks like our piece. We invite others into the spiritual journey and want them to have our experiences. But they must make their own way and have their own experiences.
“Too often people think it is necessary that we all see God in the same way (which is impossible anyway), but what is really necessary is that we all follow God according to what God tells us,” says Richard Rohr in Everything Belongs. “The fact that God has given us so many different faces and temperaments and emotions and histories shows us how God honors each unique journey and culture. God is not threatened by differences. It’s we who are.”
The Holy Spirit is abundant among us but particular to each of us. It is Pentecost again, and we each hear the Spirit in our own language (Acts 2:5-11). Paul speaks of this in his first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 12) when he reminds us that, like it or not, we all need each other.
Putting together a jigsaw puzzle should take an entire summer; our life journeys will take our entire life. And none of us – not a one of us – is going to bring in the Kingdom all by ourselves. All that is required is that we show up with the piece that has been entrusted to us and put it in its place. Then we really should all go out for a Dairy Queen.
Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.