Shifting the Perspective

A couple of weeks ago, while on vacation in Maine, we occupied our slow moments with the construction of a jigsaw puzzle. Yes, we allow ourselves to display the box top with the finished product pictured… even so, with the image that we were seeking to recreate, we would find that pieces would seemingly hide from us, only to reappear later that day or the next morning. We would find that at times pieces were put together incorrectly, and had to be disengaged and reworked. There were pieces that seemed to belong in one part of the puzzle but in reality, went in a different place. Still, as I sat and focused on the pieces and fitting them together, I began to notice the subtle differences. I could begin to pick out the proper piece from those that needed a place.

Had I written about that jigsaw puzzle a week ago, I would have focused on the frustration and difficulty of getting the pieces in the right place, in the right order, despite having the finished image in front of me. So many times, that is how life (physical, spiritual and emotional) strikes me: Even if I have an idea of the image I’m working with, it is still difficult at times to get the pieces in correctly. It takes effort to focus on the piece I’m working with right now. If my image is Jesus (or my image is the Christ within me), I still have to figure out the placement of the pieces and how they go together.

But, I didn’t write last week. Instead, I let it sit. When that happens, the perspective often shifts. The puzzle was completed. Joy! No lost pieces – no lost sheep to seek out. It locked itself together so that I rolled it up and stored it in the box, complete, as it were… and returned it to my brother-in-law’s fiance. And that brings to mind a very different perspective on that ol’ puzzle.

My husband stayed up into the wee hours finishing that puzzle… well, all except for one piece that he couldn’t find. I got up the next morning and saw the puzzle with a missing piece. Aha! there it was on the floor by the table. I experienced the joy of fitting in the last piece. The puzzle was complete! Just as life is complete only when that last piece is put into place. Or, rather, when all of the pieces are in place, there is a whole that is different from the individual pieces. I began to see that all of those pieces — those with leaves of green, those with tiger stripes, those with sky or branches or water — all of those were necessary to the whole picture. With even one part missing, the picture was incomplete.

I may be only one tiny piece in the puzzle and you may be only a piece of the puzzle, but we are both necessary for the entire image to appear. And that is one of the joys of life.


While visiting western NY state, we took the time to make our way to Chautauqua Institute and take in a lecture by David Brooks (the NY Times columnist.) Mr. Brooks and I often look at the same data and come to wildly differing conclusions. Nevertheless, I found his talk to be interesting, enlightening, entertaining and thoughtful. Especially as he reflected on a shifting attitude of the United States with respect to wars and international policy. We lack humility. We, as a nation, are so sure that our way, our customs, our particular enactment of democracy is the THE WAY that we bull our way in to other societies and cultures without taking the time to study and understand what is already there. (If I got your meaning wrong, Mr. Brooks, my apologies. This is what I took away from this part of your talk.)

This arrogance works against the arrogant in so many ways. With “American” culture, I suspect it is just so much self-righteousness in most cases. Not being humble enough to take the time to look closely at others and understand where they are coming from. Assuming that we know best not only for ourselves but for everyone else. In other non-American cases, say Stalin and the old Soviet Union, this arrogance assumed that entire cultures could be overridden and annihilated by rearranging borders (remember Czechozlovakia – now returned to 2 distinct countries – the Czech Republic and Slovakia).

This brings me back to more local concerns. My daughter and I have had many discussions of late. She thinks that I think a different culture equates automatically with good, and by extrapolation, I suspect, that I equate our own culture as “bad.” From my side, I am fascinated by the differences between the beliefs and practices between a Latino culture and a rural Southern Baptist culture. I am delighted as well to uncover the many faces of the Roman Catholic church as one moves from Europe through the Americas and on the Asia, Africa and the Pacific Rim. We bring our own backgrounds to church, but we remain Catholic Christians. If we are humble in this faith, we can say “I am more comfortable and feel more at home in this part of the spectrum” without saying “they are so [loud |quiet | jubilant|unemotional] – that they can’t possibly understand how to be Catholic.”

Humility is a virtue. It seems that the prayer of St. Francis puts it well (my own paraphrasing): Lord, make me a channel of Your Peace…  let me seek not to much to be understood as to understand, not so much to be loved as to love.

Have a good day – learn much, love much.

We are the body of Christ

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of Corpus Christi — the Body and Blood of Christ. We have a Nigerian Vincentian filling in while the padre is away on vacation… as I watched in, listened to him and responded in song to his song, I was struck by just how wonderfully diverse this Body of Christ truly is.

Fr. Igwe had this sometimes reticent little parish responding in song. He was contagious. That’s the word, I think: Contagious. He taught a different Gloria. We sang “Amazing Grace” as a creed. He chanted parts of the Preface and the Eucharistic prayer.  He was joyful.

Our usual pastor is colorful in his own ways: He loves sports, he is a gifted preacher who can handle a mass that flips from English to Spanish with ease, and he almost always “gets to me.” He too loves to sing although not the same rhythms as our visiting Nigerian. He brings so much to the celebration, especially when he’s not feeling bad.

Pentecost weekend I was at a mass in a nearby parish and saw another “Face of God” as it were in the celebration there.

And so, I am awed at the expanse and variety I find in the Body of Christ. I find that I must pray for God to touch more deeply the parishioner who complained that we had “moved from Pentecost to Pentecostal… can’t we just be Catholic?” because people clapped along with the closing song on the feast of Pentecost. There is room in this body for those who find God in the quiet, in gregorian chant and rosaries along side those who are bubbling over with the joy of the Spirit and must let the Light shine in more physical and vocal ways.

We are many parts — we are ALL ONE BODY.