September 7, 1996 in Features

Look For A Key, Pliable Piece In The Ultimate Cosmic Puzzle

Paul Graves Staff writer

Many years ago, my office door was covered with cartoons. One was delightfully irreverent.

In the single frame, there was a robed and bearded man holding a sign, “The truth shall set you free.” In the lower right-hand corner of the frame was a nondescript creature who was saying, “But so will green apples.”

A taste of truth with every bite?

Truth is on my mind a good deal these days. And not only because the Republicans and Democrats just finished their national conventions and the presidential race now begins in earnest (though there must be a column in there somewhere).

The portion of spiritual truth I puzzle over today is because of the fairly heavy and quite passionate responses I received on my column a month ago about “salvation pushers” sharing a great message in sometimes inappropriate ways and times.

Most of the responses were very supportive of my “position.” Some folks shared very poignant stories of how religious intrusion had made family losses so much more painful.

A number of responses took me to task - a destination I expected. My remarks had challenged a longtime tradition, and sacred belief, held by many religious folks who believe it is their duty to bring people to Christ. That belief is a valid one for all Christians.

But I say again: My quarrel is not with the belief and message of salvation. I challenged only the twisted way it has sometimes been shared by people whose misguided passion prompts them to insensitively invade another person’s spiritual space.

I suppose a case might be made that God invades our spiritual space. So why can’t we do the same if we are doing God’s work?

A simple answer: Because we are not God. And so we don’t always know the best way or time for that “invasion.”

I’ve missed numerous timely opportunities to share God’s love because I was afraid to intrude. Others have missed similar opportunities because they were afraid not to intrude. Does that make sense to you? It does to me.

To get a reader on “my side” is not my intent. But to consider spiritual truth in a slightly expanded way? Sure. To wonder about how much biblical truth is contained in my truth? Absolutely. Those are goals I pursue in any given Saturday morning column.

My critics were right in challenging my challenge of them. I would have been disappointed with anything less, because I firmly believe this: You who disagree with me have a small piece of the whole truth, just as I have a small piece of the whole truth.

We will not get closer to that whole truth unless and until we begin to discover together where our individual pieces fit in the whole jigsaw puzzle we call truth. They may not fit together. There may be great spaces between our truth-pieces.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t part of the same puzzle!

A normal 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle can be frustrating enough. But last spring my wife and I were introduced to a sadistic puzzle, one that (1) had no defined borders, (2) had extra pieces and (3) when finished, didn’t look exactly like the picture on the box.

Have you ever thought of truth as a gigantic 144 billion-piece jigsaw puzzle? I can’t even imagine such a puzzle.

But I can imagine that truth in its entirety might be that big!

I’m also convinced that God’s Truth Puzzle (1) has no borders that we can yet define, (2) has extra pieces - most likely made by us and shaped like our biases to justify our unwillingness to search any further, and (3) more than likely won’t really look like the picture we’ve implanted in our boxed-in imaginations.

In her wonderful description of Benedictine spirituality, “Wisdom Distilled from the Daily,” Sister Joan Chittister tells this monastic story from long ago:

“Once upon a time a visitor came to the monastery looking for the purpose and meaning of life. The teacher said to the visitor, ‘If what you seek is truth, there is one thing you must have above all else.’

“‘I know,’ the visitor said. ‘To find truth I must have an overwhelming passion for it.’

“‘No,’ the teacher said. ‘In order to find truth, you must have an unremitting readiness to admit you may be wrong.”’

This most important and pliable puzzle piece will fit any place in the Truth Puzzle. I also suspect there are many versions of it in the puzzle, too.

Of course, I may be wrong.

Care to join me in looking for more pieces of the Truth Puzzle?


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