In January 2013 Mrs. Amanda Warrington from Yate, South Gloucestershire, made the headlines of various British newspapers after completing an amazing jigsaw puzzle of 24,000 pieces. The jigsaw puzzle, manufactured by Educa in 2007, was titled ‘LIFE: The Great Challenge’.
Guinness World Records officially recognized the 14ft by 5ft puzzle as the world’s largest commercially available jigsaw puzzle by number of pieces at the time of its release. Its beautiful artwork displays a colourful variety of birds and mammals, sea life, space scenes, hot air balloons, a lighthouse, sailboats and an underwater city, all creatively blended in an amazing panorama that seems to embrace the totality of life on earth. Mrs. Warrington painstakingly glued each of the 24,000 pieces to her living room wall, the only space in her home large enough to accommodate the sizeable puzzle. It took her about 1,000 hours divided over seventeen months to complete the project, on which she worked from thirty minutes to an hour each day, although sometimes her puzzle addiction kept her up until three o’clock in the morning.
As I read this news I couldn’t help but ask myself the question: What if each of us would study the puzzle of life with the same patience, diligence and dedication? You see, Mrs. Warrington’s story illustrates a deeper reality. Life really is the greatest challenge and the largest of all puzzles. If we want to see the bigger picture however—if we want to arrive at a unified and coherent worldview—we will need to spend much time studying the facts of life. The pieces of the puzzle will only fall into place if we put our minds to it. So why not spend thirty minutes to an hour each day meditating upon life and its challenges and how these relate to God and the totality of our existence? Only those willing to face the challenge will see the picture coming together.
It appears as somewhat ironic to me that the above mentioned puzzle of life was cast from its throne by another jigsaw puzzle released in September 2016 by German puzzle manufacturer Ravensburger, titled ‘Memorable Disney Moments’. Divided into 10 joined-up sections, this new puzzle shows classic scenes from ten different animated Disney films such as Dumbo, Bambi, Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. With 40,320 pieces covering a total area of 13 square metres (6.8 by 1.92 metre), it is officially recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s largest commercially available jigsaw puzzle to date, both in number of pieces and overall size.
What fascinates me about these two puzzles is the fact that they also illustrate contemporary society’s shift of focus from the reality of life and its challenges to the surreal world of the imagination. ‘Life: The Great Challenge‘ used to be the greatest puzzle one could possibly engage in, but many people nowadays favour ‘Memorable Disney Moments,’ preferring fantasy above reality. Note the contrast between them. If the first jigsaw puzzle symbolizes the pursuit of a single unified worldview, and the beauty and harmony one finds in life when the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, the second puzzle might be taken as an illustration of postmodern society’s loss of a coherent worldview, as there is no longer a single overarching story, but only an arbitrary collection of many little stories. The metanarrative is gone and all we are left with is fairytales and fantasy. All that remains is the surreal world of the imagination, a disjointed selection of snapshots from Disney films that illustrates how fractured life becomes when entertainment becomes our main focus.
The consideration of these two jigsaw puzzles confronts us with the question: How do we spend our time? What is it that consumes our time and energy? Do we study the facts of life with a desire to understand reality and seek to arrive at a unified and coherent worldview, or do we waste our time and energy watching entertaining fantasy films that distract us from the things that truly matter in life? Do we desire to see the beauty and harmony of the bigger picture? Or are we content with disjointed snapshots of the imagination?
None of us is born with a unified and coherent worldview in mind. The puzzle does not come to us completed, nor do its pieces come to us in a neatly prepackaged box. Instead the pieces of both puzzles – reality and fantasy – are everywhere mixed and scattered both within and around us. It takes great mental effort to select the right pieces of the puzzle, carefully distinguishing fact from fiction, truth from error, lest our own imagination or the imagination of others distorts our view of reality. Only by carefully sifting the true from the false, the real from the imaginary, and then connecting the facts like the interlocking pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, will we begin to see the bigger picture of reality.
Instead of a fractured and incomplete image of reality, coloured by subjective experience and tainted by bias and prejudice, we should seek to arrive at an objective worldview based on facts. Facts are the pieces of the puzzle of life, little snapshots of reality that form the basis of a coherent worldview. A knowledge of reality can only be obtained by examining the facts of life. Related facts interlock with one another much like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Making the right connections requires careful observation and reflection however, lest we distort the bigger picture by making the wrong associations and inferences. By comparing fact with fact and examining their intricate relationships our knowledge increases and we acquire a better understanding of reality. Little by little, as the pieces of the puzzle fall into place, our worldview is formed, and we can see the bigger picture of life in all its splendid beauty and harmony. Are you willing to take on this great challenge? Or will you content yourself with the fractured world of the imagination?