“…all things work together for good to those who love God…” —Romans 8:28
Jigsaw puzzles are popular these days, but they intimidate me. People who enjoy them impress me—I’m often too impatient!
A friend gave me a beautiful one, so I faced my fear. Its dizzying array of pieces—drawn from Victorian architect Owen Jones’s The Grammar of Ornament—was overwhelming. Then, thinking of God’s constant rearrangement of our lives, I felt at peace. Isn’t He putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle for each of us? Taking seemingly unrelated things this last year, He’s led me on a surprising new path towards Him.
The lockdown, which started months ago, was confining. I prayed for a way to connect with the wider world. Soon an email arrived from Harvard, seeking alums to transcribe historical papers. I signed up, my assignment being some early letters of suffragist Susan B. Anthony. Would this heighten my isolation—or had God directed me to her for some greater purpose?
In the 1839 letters, 19-year-old Susan wrote to family and friends while working at Eunice Kenyon’s School in New Rochelle, New York. With trepidation I began, like a dutiful scribe. My scriptorium was a small home office—not a cliffside monastery—but slowly I deciphered her handwriting for the Schlesinger Library’s digital archives.
Around then, St. Jude’s Anglican Church in Oakville, Ont., resumed its Matthew Bible study online. Though I adored my church’s group, Zoom terrified me. The first couple sessions, I froze. Why couldn’t I be relaxed and chatty onscreen like the others?
Frustrated by my awkwardness, I poured energy into the letters. Susan berated herself: “Often have I felt…hardly worthy of a sister, such an ungrateful being am I….” Next Bible study, we read Christ’s words: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” (Matthew 5:3). Thinking of Susan’s humility and reflecting on Christ, I stopped trying to find my best angle for the camera and commented a time or two.
Was Susan my secret Zoom weapon? Each letter unearthed a fresh insight. In one, she wrote: “…I beg of you…to move as becoming to Christian beings, not merely making an outside show, but securing that which will in future time make you feel comfortable and satisfied….”
Her words paralleled that week’s Bible study reading: “…do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven,” (Matthew 6:1), placing the attention on one’s heart. Susan’s assertiveness, aligning with the Scriptures here and other times, propelled me to share more as I drew closer to the Word.
Pitfalls abounded in transcribing: I wiped out a full page and had plenty of typos, easily corrected thankfully. And was it right to be doing this? “I wish to give you folks a caution about exposing the contents of my letters,” she wrote. This posthumous invasion was concerning. But as Susan led me to Matthew—and Matthew, Susan—God brought His will into focus in her battle for women’s rights. She’s inspired me, with God’s help, to be braver in my lesser quest to navigate the virtual world.
I joined an online Christian meditation group led by Grace Anglican Church in Waterdown, Ont. We sit in silence, finding contemplation’s stillness while trying to live “truthfully and honestly and lovingly,” as Rowan Williams said. One thing has led to the next under God’s masterful direction.
A passion for theology—and ease with technology—growing, I’ve begun studying at Wycliffe College, convening remotely. Zoom feels commonplace now, but pondering the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—God’s only Son and Love Incarnate—is always wondrous, as is gaining “the sweetness of salvation for our soul” through Him, as third-century theologian Origen said.
God uses the everyday and the inexplicable to pull us towards Him, life’s twists and turns working together to reflect His glory. Before I knew it, the puzzle too—left on the dining table for the whole family to tackle—was taking shape.
I thank Christ, Lord of all, for showing us the way in life, one piece at a time. Jigsaw puzzles are growing on me.
Nancy Coombs is a runner, a writer and a parishioner at St. Jude’s Church in Oakville, Ont.