When I was a kid, one of my fondest memories of summer vacation was when there was bad weather. As a family, my brothers and parents and I would gather around a bridge table and pull out a multiple-sided jigsaw puzzle, tipping over the box to empty the 500 or 1,000 pieces onto the table.
We'd pick out all the straight-edged pieces first, of course, and while one or two of us began piecing together the border, others of us would look for pieces that had distinguishing characteristics, which could easily be matched to the puzzle's boxtop: the bright blue eyes of a kitten; the weave of a basket; the sunny yellow of a goldfinch's wings.
Bit by bit, images from within the center of the puzzle would be pieced together as mini-puzzles. Simultaneously, the border of the puzzle would be brought together according to its edges, bumps, and colors. Eventually, inevitably, some part of the border would match up with one of these mini-puzzles and we'd move together to join the two that had been rent asunder from last summer when we had worked on it...
Each of us in my family had a different knack or preference for what part of the puzzle to focus on. My mom and older brother would reach for the border pieces. My dad might stretch open his large hands to grasp all the pieces that had a smidgeon of a certain color, them pile them up near him, creating little piles of colors along the edge of the table. My twin brother and I would attend more to the details of a certain bird or flower or castle on the boxtop.
As the regions of the puzzle were pieced together by our individual talents, at some point one of us would recognize that two of the regions could be joined, and we'd redouble our efforts to figure out how to make them fit. I often found myself sifting through individual pieces not yet designated to an area or to an individual, looking for the connective piece that would join the regions together.
Each summer, with each puzzle we worked on, I would experience the success of working together to restore a thousand scattered pieces into a cohesive whole once more. It was one of the few tasks we did as a family.
These days, some 30 years later, I am still surprised by how much I enjoy working on a jigsaw puzzle when someone else is working with me, despite our different approaches to piecing the thing together.
I sometimes think of corporate discernment like this:
God's will is like the picture on the boxtop of a great jigsaw puzzle. And each Friend engaged in the discernment process around a specific topic may have a few of the pieces in her or his hand. Bit by bit, then, we share the pieces of the Divine puzzle, placing them on the community table around which we have gathered. We take turns handling the pieces, twisting them, gathering them, moving them together or apart, wanting to make sense of them:
Do the pieces seem to fit together as part of a micro-whole?It seems to me that ultimately, we have to rely on each other's ability to discern when pieces fit together well and when they seem to be forced.
Do patterns carry over from one piece to another?
Who might be holding a piece but has not yet had an opportunity to place it on the table?
Do we share our ideas openly of what other pieces to look for, of what other processes are needed in order to fill in the missing pieces?
Do we think that we have all the necessary pieces rather than allowing that perhaps someone else has a needed piece to bring to the table?
How do we know what picture is on the Divine Boxtop anyway?
How do we agree we are piecing the "right" Boxtop together?
It seems to me that some of us have the gift of being able to see the Divine Boxtop earlier than others. And it seems to me that some of us have the gift of being able to extrapolate what the Boxtop might be from even a single piece of the puzzle.
But this is a given: if we keep our pieces to ourselves, we are likely to draw the wrong conclusion, piece together an incomplete puzzle, or force pieces into places that don't belong.