Where were we going to eat the Christmas quiche? I’m was toned down enough to think about such dilemmas of practical magnitude. You see, the 2000 piece sea-turtle puzzle occupied a half-acre of our dinner table. It was sixty percent done and wouldn’t be finished by Christmas.
I’m not sure who invested the most time, but each night after helping Santa deliver the goods, I sat, stood, hovered, and puzzled over the sea-turtle shell game. The therapy provided was thoroughly unexpected. As our common area kept on with dishes clanking, conversation humming, and dogs yipping, I puzzled. Sometimes others joined in the puzzling and connection ensued between souls like the coupling of pieces. I found out I can puzzle and engage with the family at the same time, unlike chewing gum while jump roping.
My mom was a professional puzzler and I told the kids about how she had puzzle trays. The trays wrapped around the project and each held similarly colored pieces. It seemed like cheating to me, but hey, when you’ve done your time trying to fit the pieces of real life together for decades, well, there you go. Mom rarely looked at the box top either, so it kind of offset the tray trickery. It took extra time for her to figure out the difference between a giraffe nose and a giraffe hoof. I mean, a slice of nose and a portion of hoof in the same tray would delay things a bit, don’t you think?
Anyway, as I puzzled, my mind wandered, like when my dad listened to Ravel’s Bolero. Funny, a classic picture of my dad napping is in plain view of the puzzle. I don’t want to nod off on my family, so the sea-turtles are keeping me in the room at least. Yet this activity is a balm which doesn’t make logical sense. It’s a puzzle, for crying out loud. Why does the search for pieces meld peace into the harried pace of the holiday season?
I feel a sermon a comin’, as Supertramp’s Logical song comes to mind. Lord, have mercy…really. Puzzle pieces preach. When you’re trying to put together all the sky so blue and infinite. When the ocean waves crash together, but fail to fit together. When turtle shells and sea shells meet, or not, you start searching for the edges. Begin with the frame, the context in which all the finite presuppositions seem mysterious and aloof. Look for the straight lines of containment, they’ve got to be there.
This year I’ve been repeating a phrase in an attempt to diffuse the tension I feel constantly. “I believe there is absolute truth, but I can’t know it absolutely.” So many floating thoughts in our post-modern, pluralistic, touchy-feely, sound bitten culture. Is there an overarching frame of truth? Is the truth out there as The X-Files so ardently claims? Is there a piece to the puzzle, without which the whole scene loses its coherence? Is this even the best question to ask?
Then I read this. Bear with me, it’s kind of long, but these words laser in on the concept.
“One of the most soul-damaging effects of modern life is the obfuscation of story: the fragmentation of story into disconnected anecdotes, the reduction of story to gossip, the dismemberment of story into lists of formulae or rules. In most of the words that come before us each day – delivered via television, internet, newspaper, billboard, and gossip – there is rarely any story beyond the immediate event. There is very little that connects to the past, reaches into the future, or soars to the heights. Instead of connecting us with a deeper reality, such words disconnect us, leaving us in a boneyard of incident and comment.
On the other hand, every time someone tells a story and tells it well and truly, the gospel is served. Out of the chaos of incident and accident, story-making words bring light, coherence, meaning, and value. If there is a story, then maybe, just maybe, there is (must be!) a Storyteller.” Eugene Peterson on Homage to a Broken Man by Peter Mommsen
The effort to bring all the pieces together is story-telling on a miniature scale. Getting back to the puzzle, a turtle’s eye, and a portion of sea coral won’t necessarily bring context and coherence. The effort matters. If we are content with 2000 unconnected pieces, well, each piece will represent a sound bite, a turn of phrase, a juicy morsel of gossip, and the story will not be birthed in total. This idea probably breaks down at some point, like deconstructing the puzzle and sweeping the pieces back into the box, but it got me thinking.
Life lived piece-meal is seems more appetizing; easier to swallow, but lacks coherence and context. The real work of my relational coherence depends on me staying in the room. Gaining a wholeness means coming to the table and embracing the mystery through prayer, insight, and perseverance.
The puzzle was finished in the evening of New Year’s Day, an apt metaphor for a good 2018. God is good.
Our Father in Heaven,
Grant us the grace to live our stories within the context of Your Story this year. May we find the edges of Your reality to give coherence to our existence under the sun. Help us to be okay with the mystery, yet faithful, trustful, and hopeful in You.
In the name of Jesus Christ Our Lord