Friday, August 06, 2004


My spiritual life is like a jigsaw puzzle. When I was young the pieces of the spiritual puzzle came spilling out all around me and I was at a loss as to where to begin that daunting task of creating a relationship/picture from the many pieces.

I begin to realize there is a way to start. I should get the outline pieces in place first. The outer edge of my spiritual journey consists of family, community, faith traditions, scripture reading and the first stirrings of personal prayer. These pieces all have very strong boundary lines, and are easy to distinguish, and once one puts them in order they form a framework for the rest of ones spiritual life.

The next step is filling in the middle of the puzzle. This is a little bit harder, because while doing a traditional jigsaw puzzle, all I had to do was look at the picture on the box to see what the final picture is supposed to look like, the box to my spiritual puzzle is gone, so I grope along trying piece after piece until one fits. In the spiritual life this is like using new forms of prayer and reading spiritual books without any guidance, you can really get far in the wrong direction very easily.

It is only after a long frustrating session of trying so many ill fitting pieces that I begin to understand that pieces not only fit together because the edges match, but also because the colors of the pieces surrounding it are similar. In my spiritual life I equate this to turning to trustworthy sources as I seek the truth. Why go to a source that only knows what they have been told about the truth when there are those who know the truth.

Then I find that having someone more skilled at puzzles to guide me really helps as well. In my faith tradition we call this spiritual direction. I have been blessed with two wonderful official spiritual directors and a few others who took on the task in an unofficial way. My Spiritual Director helps me to see the patterns in each tiny piece of the puzzle, and when I can see the patterns clearly it becomes so much easier to see where they fit into the framework.

Even the most experienced puzzle assembler can be tricked though. Have you ever seen two puzzles cut with the same die at the factory? They may have totally different pictures, but each puzzle has exactly the same shapes of pieces in exactly the same place. If two puzzles of this type have their pieces mixed together it can mean chaos to the puzzle assembler.

In the spiritual life, the world is full of similar puzzles. I go around picking up prayers and other devotions, and groups and other ways of experiencing God and I try them out in my puzzle. When a piece fits, I am so happy that I don't even realize that the piece has a totally different design than the surrounding pieces. It fits; it should be part of my puzzle. This is when that wise spiritual director can help me to see the error of my strategy, and help me to remove the piece that fits the shape exactly but totally clashes with the pattern.

When I complained to my spiritual director that God had thrown so many puzzle pieces into my stack, she reminded me that all I had to do was look a little more closely at the pattern on each piece and make sure the pattern matched before I moved on.

But I lament all of the little holes in my framework that removing the dissimilar pieces have created. I will have to go back and find the pieces that fit in these spaces. When I moan about God's lack of good puzzle keeping, my spiritual director chastises me for being so ready to pick up puzzle pieces meant for other puzzle assemblers.

Stick to your own pattern, she says, adding someone else’s pieces to your puzzle will only lead to dissatisfaction when you have every space filled and the picture is something unrecognizable.

So, I carefully add piece after piece to my framework, and something that looks familiar emerges. As my spiritual journey progresses I see that what I am constructing is a picture, of something I know quite well. For if I am careful, and assemble my puzzle with all the correct pieces meant for me, I will construct a picture of LOVE!

Happy puzzling, and by the way have you seen a piece that looks like morning prayer, I think that is supposed to fit right over there in my framework.


1 comment:

Suzanne said...

What an amazing analogy! How do you do that? I suppose you may
sit with a word and your mind just wanders off and away. This is another really superb writing, my friend! I'll be back to read some of these over again for like this one, is a great reminder to me of how to find my way back into reworking on my own "spiritual
puzzles." Thank you again for sharing this.