Puzzle Pieces

It is to me a marvel, the way seemingly disparate sources give us puzzle pieces that fit together into a unified whole.  I seem to be developing a whole cosmology (or is the Spirit teaching me?) out of bits of various readings.

Awhile back, in N.T. Wright’s Simply Christian and Surprised by Hope, I found the startling (to me) claim that the Kingdom of Heaven is a separate, physical “place” that is nevertheless all around us.  I picture something like a parallel universe with which we have very limited communication that appears to us, because of the limitations of our world, to come from disembodied spiritual beings.  Wright tells us that God’s plan is to eventually unite the two universes, so that the “spiritual” and “physical” – what we perceive as embodied and disembodied – become one, and God can be all in all.  This uniting has begun to happen as the two realities intersect at certain points, such as the Sacraments.  Each believer also is a “new person,” a duality of the two kinds of being, “spirit” and “flesh,” gradually being transformed by the Holy Spirit into a unified, integrated whole.  The mission of the Church, the body of believers, is to multiply in population and grow in perfection, manifesting this spiritual life more and more fully in the world.

I’ve been chewing on this perception for some time, and I find it offers a way to make sense of some of the perplexities of our faith.

Now more recently, I have been studying a training manual for the Healing Rooms ministry.  In considering how and why miraculous healing happens, its claim is that healing is always God’s will, and his love/power/healing is always being poured out toward us.  The healing we pray for is immediately granted; however, it requires a vehicle or conduit in order to reach its intended goal.  And that conduit is the person of faith who is infused with the Spirit and whose will is submitted to and aligned with God’s will in the matter.

So here is the “how” of the matter, how the process of manifesting the Kingdom in the world works in the specific area of healing.  Once again there is a dual reality: God is in his heaven, pouring out the requested healing – but the ill person is in the world, and the two realities are separate.  Once again, the person of faith is the point of intersection between the two, the necessary vehicle by which God’s healing can manifest here.

Now the question comes:  Why?  Why would God make such a cumbersome, complicated system?  Why would he require the cooperation of weak, fallible creatures like us to manifest his power?  The answer to this, and other big questions, comes to me from Abraham Joshua Heschel, a foremost Jewish theologian of the 20th Century.

We are all aware that we need God.  But according to Heschel, God needs us, too.  Now that is stunning.  But God’s need is not a result of any weakness or limitation, but of His overflowing love.  It might be more accurate to say He desires us.  In fact, it may be that the whole point of Creation has been to gain for himself a Beloved.  A faithful Beloved, who returns His love, a perfect complement to His un-reproducible Self.  How to go about that?

Well, first would be to create a being in His own image (something like “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone”).  Set them in His garden, lavish them with all the wonders of His creative art, joy in fellowship with them.  But wait.  Something is still missing; the ultimate joy is not something He can give Himself.  It is love, returned to Him freely.  He must give them free will to make that return, and with it, the temptation to reject Him  – which, inevitably, happens. 

And so begins the long, painful process that is the only way to what God desires – a Bride suitable for Himself, to live with Him in His Kingdom.  He woos, He pursues, she flirts, she is unfaithful, He rages, He punishes, she comes crawling back and He forgives, only to go through it all again and again.  All along the way, each of us either accepts or rejects His advances, accepts or rejects the infusion of the Holy Spirit to work His transformation and make us ready.

As I stand back, I see that the whole, painful process of fall and redemption is necessary, a part and perhaps the last stage of Creation itself – the formation of a Beloved to share in the Kingdom.  In the fullness of time, the “world” will be completely overcome by, and united to, the Kingdom.  Here, now, we each have our small part to play in connecting the two; and in the hereafter, our membership in the Bride.

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3 Responses to Puzzle Pieces

  1. Charlotte says:

    Susan,

    As always, I appreciate and benefit from the richness and authenticity of your reflections. The one I have to share on the notion of “puzzle pieces” diverts from your message but is one that holds a great deal of meaning for me.

    Among the members of my grandson Nathan’s very extended family is a wide variety of belief systems when it comes to religion and spirituality. There are atheists, agnostics, Protestants, modern day Catholics and those who disregard everything prior to Vatican II. In my home he encounters statues of Buddha, images of Jesus and, at holiday time, even a Menorah. We subscribe to the many-paths-to-God philosophy.

    One Christmas when Nathan was five, we took him to the candlelight service at our church. A couple of days later he and I were hiking together when he mentioned to me that one of his relatives didn’t believe in God or Jesus. I replied that my wish for him would be that he wait until he’s older to decide for himself what he believes.

    “I already know what I believe,” he said.

    My first response was one of concern, but I kept it to myself and simply asked him to explain.

    “I believe we are all puzzle pieces,” he said. “I believe you are a puzzle piece, I am a puzzle piece and everybody else is a puzzle piece. Put all the pieces together and that’s what God looks like.”

    Awed by his words, I looked at him and said, “Nathan, I think you’re exactly right.”

    He stopped walking, turned to me and said, “I didn’t even know I knew that.”

    Just this past year I came across a necklace in a catalogue. One side reads, “Without me” and the other reads, “The puzzle is incomplete.” I immediately ordered two or three. Later when I went to order more, the catalogue no longer carried the item. After a long search I found the website belonging to the original designer and have since ordered at least a dozen more that I give out whenever I feel the Spirit’s prompting.

    I wrote to the designer and shared this story with him. He wrote back that I had made his day, his week and possibly his life by sharing that with him–that and that he completely agreed with Nathan.

    I thank you, Susan, for providing this opportunity to share this story. There’s a reason you chose those particular words, “Puzzle Pieces.” A reason I had this story to share. Neither of us may ever know the full impact of sharing these stories–and maybe we’re not meant to–but I admit to hoping we learn some small portion of it. Those divine connections just make life so…breathtaking.

    Sent with love, Charlotte

  2. Karin Benning says:

    I loved what both of you have said. I guess my personal “puzzle piece” more focuses on how I need to be in this world and less focused on whether or not I am making it to the “other one”. I hope in the process of attempting to follow God’s teachings here, I will be ready to exist in that other world.

    I am currently reading for my Saturday AM class at St. Mary’s a book by Cynthia Bourgerault (an Episcopal priest and teacher) called “Wisdom Jesus”. I think this fits with what both of you are saying, Charlotte, (Nathan), and Susan.

    Her quote on p. 8 comes from her experience with Father Bruno Barnhart (past prior of the Benedictine Camaldolese Monastery in Big Sur). “He is the first person who really put the pieces together for me: that the key ingredient I’ve been talking about is really ‘recognition energy’. It’s the capacity to ground-truth a spiritual experience in your own being…as the powerful liberation energy of the Christ event spills over and travels forward, moving from recognition to recognition.” She says the heart does not perceive through separation. Rather, it picks up reality in a “much more integral and deeper way” than our minds can imagine.

    The challenge is to go deeper and deeper into consciousness, so we can understand God’s real meaning, and not to revert to egoic dualistic approaches (fair-not fair, right-wrong, black-white etc.) when fear tries to motivates us.

    Susan mentions mankind needing to be unifed into an integrated whole. Nathan and Charlotte see that, too. It seems we are all using our hearts as tools of deeper understanding these days…

    Karin

    Thanks for letting me be part of this, Susan.

  3. Kim says:

    This quest to find our place in the big picture, our raison d’etre, occurs in everyone’s life, it seems!

    The metaphor of “puzzle pieces” reminds me of the Scriptural description of believers in Jesus Christ as “living stones” :

    Coming to Him [as to] a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God [and] precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore, it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.”

    Therefore, to you who believe, [He is] precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling And a rock of offense.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.

    But you [are] a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once [were] not a people but [are] now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. 1 Peter 2:5-10.

    (Forgive my combining of all the verses into paragraph form for this little squeeze of space!)

    Jesus is the Capstone of this spiritual House of God, being built of His believers, who are living stones. This is the “big picture” of which I desire to be one small piece, for it is eternal. It includes this brief, temporal life, and all of the eternal one. I must allow myself to be chiseled by Him in order to fit into my “spot” in the living Temple. This requires constant yielding to the Master’s hand, and I am so knobby and rough to deal with!

    I may not choose from a smorgasbord of options as to the way to God. I must accept His free, and priceless, gift of His Son’s sacrifice for me on the Cross. As He, Himself said, He is the “the way, the truth, and the life”, and “no man comes to the Father except through me (Him)”.

    My trust is placed in the One who laid Himself down as the Cornerstone, and in no one else. No one else has paid the price for me to have this eternal life.

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