I have been asked to give this first word and talk about relationships; so what I am going to talk about is jig saw puzzles.
As a child I was introduced to jig saw puzzles as one of our family activities. Therefore, when I think of working a puzzle I think of it as a group activity. I have observed that those who are working on a puzzle will divided themselves into two categories. After the initial assembly of the edge, some will continue working around the edges, building inward. But others will take up a collection of pieces from around the table that have something in common, such as orange stripes or a solid blue color, and then go to work trying to fit them together to make a small section that will later fit somewhere in the picture.
These small sections will sometimes connect with the edge, but quite often this little picture part will connect with another person's small project. Perhaps just at one point, or along an edge, or one point to an edge. But by whatever means, there in the midst of the chaos of still unconnected pieces and the actions of other people working on the puzzle, a relationship has been established.
When this happens, it is a milestone, something worthy of a small celebration. But it not time to quit. The combined parts need more work on the connection that has just been made between them. If it was just one point more pieces need to be added reinforce the connection. If two edges fit together, that line of connection needs to be extended. What had been two small individual efforts is now a larger and more expansive unit with more opportunities and challenges.
As the work on this combination continues, connections will be made. Each of the two parts that have been joined brings the opportunity to make connections to different parts of the puzzle. And, as the combined section, still other connections may emerge. As this relationship is worked on, there will be new connections, some quite unexpected, and all adding to the developing picture.
When the right connections have been found, these sections fill the center and are joined with the edges so that the whole picture emerges. Did we have a jigsaw puzzle at the retreat last April? Every year I have been there there has been one. I cannot walk by that table with its work in progress without stopping, even if I have only a minute or two. When there is some slack time, I sit down for an hour or more and try to get the eleven pieces that have purple on them, or whatever, to fit together. By Sunday morning the puzzle is finished. I might take a minute to look at the finished product, but no more than that.
This is the very point where my metaphor of puzzle and relationship breaks down. It breaks down because jigsaw puzzles have edges, relationships donÍt. I have always felt that the completion of a jigsaw puzzle is a little bit sad. It is the mark of success, true. But the joy of a puzzle is in the working, not the finishing. The joy of working on a relationship is in the working, and there is no finishing.