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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Thought for the Day: On Jigsaw Puzzles as a Metaphor for Life


I'm currently working on a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle called Spring Meadow. It's not a landscape scene, more like a collage with all kinds of images from a meadow: one corner with daffodils, hearts flowers, ferns, tiny birds, a bee -- all in a glorious hodge-podge! It's been lots of fun to work on.

But I'm also reading Dietrich von Hildebrand's book, Transformation in Christ, and I'm in the chapter on recollection and contemplation. So I've been trying to practice being recollected as I go about my daily activities. I pray while I'm folding wash. "Lord bless the little visitors who slept on these sheets during the holidays and the little feet that forgot these socks under the bed....Bless this dinner I'm cooking and the guests who will share it with us."

You get the idea.

Anyway, while I was working on the puzzle after Mass, visiting a local nursing homes, and having breakfast this morning I thought about how much life is like a puzzle. You don't see everything all at once. Each of the bits is like the small and big events of our lives.

Some parts are dark and others are bright and colorful. We try to put the pieces together as best we can. Sometimes we get a bit wrong and have to fix it. In the end, it all comes together to make up the picture of life. "Oh, now I see how that bit fit in. Why couldn't I see it all along?" And we pray that, with our efforts at making our picture we ended up doing "Something beautiful for God," as Mother Teresa said so often. What a horror if it turns out to be the Picture of Dorian Gray!

I once had a conversation outside the Vatican Embassy (1986?) when a handful of friends and I were counter demonstrating against a group of gays protesting CDF's letter on homosexuality. I was in the middle of chemotherapy at the time. During the event I spoke to a young homosexual named Dan. He was handsome and well dressed in a tan suit (It was Spring.) because he was part of the press team. He seemed so forlorn to me and had a strange scar on his cheek that made me think he once had a safety pin piercing. I think our conversation began with a short discussion on the Church's teaching with regard to same sex relations and criticism of the Vatican letter. And then it went something like this:

Dan: But why is it wrong for me to have relations with another guy?
Me: Your bodies don't fit together. It's like trying to force two pieces of a puzzle together that don't match. You can't do it. God made marital relations for a man and a woman. Using them any other way is wrong.
Dan: But why did God make me this way if he didn't want me to be like this?
Me: (I didn't think it was the time to get into the nature vs. nurture debate.) I don't know. Why did I get cancer? Life is hard. But that doesn't mean we can do things that are wrong.

I really don't remember the rest. I just remember how sad Dan seemed. Obviously, he was a tormented soul. I still pray for him. Even then I saw puzzles as a metaphor for life. I hope I planted a seed for Dan those many years ago and I pray that we meet merrily in heaven one day.

I was also thinking this morning how much easier the puzzle is when we have a guide. I started out  planning to put it togehter without looking at the picture on the box. That lasted about the time it took me to do the outline.

Too hard.

So I used the picture as a guide. Sometimes I pick up a piece and examine the picture to find out where it goes. And that's what the Church is for us -- a guide to show us how things fit together. We don't have to puzzle our way through life blind to the big picture. We have it in the patrimony of the Church: in Scripture, the Sacraments, the Catechism, the lives of the saints, the devotionals --- all of it. It doesn't make life easy, but helps us see more clearly how individual experiences impact us and help to bring us closer to God if we are open to His will. An illness, the death of a loved one, that apparent setback, the exciting adventure, that misadventure....all can "work together for good" if we love the Lord and serve according to his purpose.

I'm almost done with my puzzle. I think I'll glue it together and hang it up as a reminder of how seemingly unrelated snippets of life come together to make something beautiful. May your day be one of the bright spots in the puzzle of life.

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