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“We seek what we are.” – Richard Rohr

I find myself surrounded by soulful souls. I guess it’s true that you find what you’re looking for — I’ve always been a spiritual seeker. That the people I hold most dear to me are deeply spiritual people should come as no surprise. Yet I’ve always been surprised at the quality of my friends and family. They are good people: Loving, smart, strong, gracious, talented. Could it be that somewhere in me these same qualities exist? Does like always attract like?

Maybe, but what I think Rohr is saying is that we seek the God we find in ourselves. I suppose that’s why some people’s gods are so small. I prefer to imagine a big God who loves extravagantly to a little god who quibbles over minutiae and hates people who don’t fit into his own teeny, tiny mold. We are all limited in our view of God (who is too big for any of us to really apprehend), but our own limitations (to love, to forgive, to accept) appear to narrow our perceptions even further. And that’s just sad.

In truth, we are all small. We’re a bunch of shrieking atoms on a blue dot hurtling through the vastness of space. What mark we make on this earth will almost surely be washed away by the tides of time. Why on earth would any of want to make ourselves smaller?

God challenges us to be big. Not by any of the markers of society, of course — not in wealth, social status, physicality. God wants us to grow our hearts. And the bigger we grow them, the more we’ll find ourselves surrounded by big-hearted people. Love begets love.

Of course, if you find yourself surrounded by bigots and haters, finger-pointers and middle finger-lifters, you just might want to take a good long look at yourself. Is that kind of smallness really what you’re seeking? And if so, why?

Clue: “Kid with X-Box changes left for right and makes an appeal.” Answer: Prayer, of course! As anyone who loves cryptic (or British) crosswords knows, the solution is right there in front of you. In cryptics, part of the clue provides the answer; the rest consists of the mechanics to get there. In this case, a kid with an X-Box is a “player”; you then exchange the “l” (“left”) for “r” (“right”) to get “an appeal,” which is “prayer.”

But why am I bothering to explain this? Either you already love cryptics (and found the answer annoyingly easy) or you have developed an antipathy merely from reading the opening paragraph of this post. I am obsessed with them, often creating my own clues (see above) just for the fun of playing with language. But I wonder, why do I so adore these puzzles? They are frustrating, hilarious, stupid, wickedly difficult, unfair and deeply satisfying. They are like my mind.

They are also a link to my family. When I was very young, I’d hear, from my bedroom at night, my mother and my Aunt Beverly working cryptics in the living room. They’d shriek with laughter. I wanted in. So I taught myself how to do them (there are a finite number of ways to solve the clues, such as hidden words, anagrams, charades, double meanings, etc.). I have spent many a happy hour since then unraveling these puzzles with my mom (with my father often playing straight man and voice of reason) or alone.

Maybe that’s why I’m so comfortable with the many mysteries of faith. Jesus is both God and man? Sure, why not? The Eucharist contains the real presence of Jesus? Stranger things have happened. Cryptic crosswords have opened my mind to the possibilities and seeming impossibilities of creation. I get why God made aardvarks and platypuses. I’ve never struggled with the lack of reason sometimes involved in spirituality. Because I believe the reason is there; it’s just hidden — cryptic, but present.

When I run into a problem with my faith, it does me good to remember my puzzles. I’ve often stared at a clue for hours before the answer clicks into place (“murder victim sounds qualified” had me stumped until I remembered our biblical friend Abel). Maybe faith is like that. Maybe our frustrations come not from a God who is inconsistent, but from our own inability to decipher his clues.

Because you gotta know that God is far more complicated than a crossword puzzle. But the joy of understanding God? A million times more rewarding than any puzzle could be.

 

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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