Now that the pandemic is in the third year and new variants continue to emerge; with the numbers of cases going up and down and up again; with continuing recommendations for masks and social distancing; with the difficulties of travel to be with family and friends; with a firm belief in vaccines and love of neighbor; my life has become considerably more monkish. A meditative and metaphorical life practice has emerged. I call it our Pandemic Puzzle Practice.
Life is a puzzle, isn’t it? Sometimes it seems that God is a puzzle maker, creating us in 300, 500, 750, 1,000 or more pieces, putting us in a package and delivering us by God’s own FedEx. Then it’s our job, hopefully with some help, to put the pieces together.
I always start a puzzle by turning over all the pieces and separating out the straight edges. Then there’s a good chance you can make the border for the puzzle and proceed to put it together. I know this isn’t the process everyone uses. My granddaughter doesn’t need a frame. When we do one together, she can start working from the inside out; perhaps because she’s young and has an artists’ eye. Either way, we all eventually create that boundary, that frame for our life; and we need it, if we are going to complete the Creators’ puzzle for us.
There can be problems! You think you’re building a solid wall, a frame, a border, a foundation for a full and satisfying life. Then you discover there’s a space, a hole, and you aren’t sure where or what the piece is that can fill it. Was it there at one point but now lost? Is it simply stuck in the midst of all the others? I always look under the near-by rug. Then I search among the waiting puzzle boxes under the table and on the floor. Sometimes it takes the help of another to locate it. Or perhaps you need a while away from the puzzle, to come back with fresh eyes for a new look. We just need to remember, when we see pieces missing, it can be a good thing. It can start a search toward eventual satisfaction.
The worst possible problem is to have a finished puzzle (or life), with one piece missing and none to be found. It’s not under the rug, the table, the chair, the couch. We hate to pass such a puzzle box on to others, labelled “one piece missing.” Most don’t want it!
Once we finished a puzzle and there was an extra piece. Was the maker trying to fool us? Another time the picture on the box was different from the puzzle inside. Was the maker mixed up? There are a few pieces in our lost and found drawer; lonely, never used, lost to us and their origins.
Puzzle practice helps discernment. My preference is the big picture items. Just let me put all the sky pieces in one place and start to see the heavens. The light varies. The colors are bright or dim, shaded or stark, with all manner of variations. Gradually the colors reveal themselves and shapes and sizes complete the placement process.
My wife prefers the smaller puzzle items. Give her words or faces or solitary images and she’s at her best. She leaves the leaves for me. We both prefer bright colors. Puzzle practice together is a good metaphor for married life.
There are some who do puzzle practice with two puzzles in one. You need the same puzzle maker with two puzzles cut with the same saw. Then you combine them in a way that gives you a totally new picture, like twins delivered from the Divine Puzzle-Maker.
Two puzzles ago we put together some of the sacred and spectacular sites around the globe. They each had their own little box, from Yellowstone to Egyptian Pyramids to the Taj Mahal to the Eiffel Tower. It was like a pandemic trip around the globe from the space of one’s living room. The latest we finished yesterday was a Charles Wysocki puzzle, one of those that produces nostalgia for older folks. It’s a picture of the sand dunes and Cape Cottages on Nantucket from an earlier era, with women in long dresses on the dunes and kites in the sky.
One of the churches I served had a puzzle library. Anyone could borrow a puzzle and it was where folks brought them when they finished one. There was always an interesting selection and new puzzles appeared regularly. I know seniors borrowed them, as I would find them on tables and desks when I visited elders in retirement communities and care centers. There’s something meditative and contemplative about puzzle practice.
For some, the practice of puzzles could be an escape from the hard realities of their time and place. Heaven knows, we live in such times and spaces. Then again, puzzle practice could operate as a metaphor for life, offering instruction and discernment about the importance of even one small piece in the overall intention of the Creator.
Let’s care for our life puzzle pieces, and not leave any holes in our completed picture.