My father was an interesting and interested man. He loved to meet new people and hear bits and pieces of their life stories, listening for clues to who they were, who they had been, and who they might become. He wanted to know and understand them. He also loved to learn about things, figuring out how they were made, how they fit together and how they worked. This was reflected in a lifelong love of puzzles, especially physical puzzles that you can hold in your hands and struggle apart and back together again.
I’ve not always been good with puzzles. They used to intimidate me, especially when I was young. My sister has always loved puzzles. She inherited our father’s physical dexterity and hand/eye coordination. I, on the other hand, inherited our mother’s dexterity, or lack thereof. Rather than challenging and engaging, I found puzzles to be daunting and discouraging. Even so, my dad would hand me a puzzle and encourage me not to surrender. “You can do it,” he’d chide. “Just puzzle it out.”
One of my prized possessions is a small, hand-carved puzzle my father made. I remember the evening he whittled its ends with his always sharp pocket knife. I was in elementary school. Once finished, he quickly put the pieces together to form a dark, wooden ball. “Here you go,” he said, tossing the little ball to me. “Try this!”
I pushed at the puzzle from all its many point. It was surprisingly tight as it held together in my hands. But when I found the “key” piece, pushing it out of place, the whole thing fell apart, and two pieces tumbled to the floor. Startled, I picked the pieces up and began to struggle with trying to put the puzzle back together. I tried every combination I could conceive, but nothing worked. I reached up to hand the pieces to my father. “Don’t give up,” he encouraged me. “Puzzle it out. You can do it!”
And so, I tried. And tried. And tried.
That night, I left the disassembled puzzle pieces atop the piano, which had a central, almost altar-like place in our home. They resided there in a little pile for the better part of a week. Each day, I picked them up and gave it a try. And each time, my discouragement, even embarrassment at not being able to complete the task, would get the better of me. I’d return the pieces to their place on the piano.
One day, suddenly, the pieces all came together. It was like magic! What one moment was a jumble of wood shifting back and forth in my hands suddenly was a tight, little ball! I ran to show my father, proud as I could be, to boast of my accomplishment. I then returned the completed puzzle to rest triumphantly atop the piano.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered I, too, have a good ability to “puzzle it out.” I’ll never achieved my sister’s level of dexterity – something it has taken years for me to accept and appreciate. But in my own way, and in my own time, I have learned to appreciate the challenge of fitting many different parts and pieces together, making a whole, whether it is with actual physical objects, with ideas and concepts, programs and activities, or groups and communities.
One of the tasks of church is to “puzzle it out” in relationship with each other and with the world. How shall we all fit together? How do form the many different “pieces” that each of us comprises into a single, whole entity? It shifts and evolves day by day, year by year. People come and go. Interests, abilities and even availabilities wax and wane. Needs, both within the church and throughout the community, evolve and change. And through it all, we’re called to unity – to be One: one with God, one with each other, and one, in ministry, to all the world.
And so, we puzzle it out, day by day and year by year. We hold together, in holy love, all the parts and pieces that comprise us as a community: who we are, who we have been, and who we can become. And as a whole, with all of our constituent parts, we seek to serve God and make heavenly ways of love and compassion known. Together.
See you in church…