Each of my boys has discovered origami sometime between their sixth and seventh year of life. It always begins with fortune tellers and airplanes, then progresses to boats and paper hats. Soon, every surface of the house is littered with folded scraps of white copy paper. Eventually, familiar patterns lose their thrill and we head to the library searching for new patterns to master.
Harder patterns, though, require adult assistance. Inevitably, I’m called to assist a frustrated child in deciphering vague diagrams and tricky folds. This, I do, kneeling on the floor by the wood stove with an anxious, eager child peering over my shoulder.
“Mom! I don’t understand what I’m supposed to do,” they cry.
“Ok, let me see,” I say.
They want me to be able to look at the picture once and tell them what to do. But, I need to begin at the beginning, to feel the paper moving through its motions beneath my fingers.
I follow the patterns step-by-step: fold, unfold, refold again. Even though I know the desired outcome, the path to completion’s often far from direct. Jumping ahead is not advisable, so I stay in the moment working slowly, one fold at a time.
Some patterns begin with several steps of folds and creases that are then, one by one, undone. These folds are preparatory, lining the page with creases that serve as landmarks for the steps ahead. It would be a tempting but misleading to mistake one of these preparatory folds for a final fold.
Sometimes I think this may be how God works in our lives – not that our lives are paper, manipulated by God into an unforeseen shape – but every life is filled with folds, some relating directly to the final goal, others only serving as markers along the path. So much suffering comes from mistaking one from the other – pegging our lives, our identity on something that will, shortly, be unfolded to make way for something else.
The problem is, from my human perspective, I can’t readily tell the difference between final folds and preparatory folds. Even the final outcome remains unclear – what are we working toward here, God? A jumping frog? A peaceful crane?
The truth is, I'm not sure God cares nearly as much as I do about the difference between unfolds and final folds, about final outcomes and destinations. God may be something more like a child, thrilled with the feel of pliable paper, delighting in the joy of shared discovery.
Knowing this, maybe we can learn to move lightly and freely through life, turning and folding, shaped in each moment by what is, rooted in the humility of not knowing, and a deep trust in the goodness of the One in whose hands we rest. We are being turned, crease by crease, into works of beauty and wonder beyond what we could ever imagine. This is what redemption means, this folding and unfolding, moving forward, always, toward wholeness.