Franciscan Spirit Blog

Gather the Fragments

Holding stringed lights | Photo by Yeo Yonghwan on Unsplash

My latest book is born of three words, gather the fragments, and I invite you here to share them, no matter what you believe, what you’ve rejected, what you are suspicious of, and especially, what you long for. I stumbled upon the phrase one day when I was writing for Franciscan Media’s online resource Pause+Pray.

As I sought inspiration and ideas, flipping through the New Testament, I saw this: gather the fragments. I read what came before, curious about what framed it, and landed right in the center of the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, when Jesus is preaching before a large and hungry crowd.

One of his disciples said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what good are these for so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people recline.” Now there was a great deal of grass in that place. So the men reclined, about five thousand in number. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much fish as they wanted. When they had their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” So they collected them and filled twelve wicker baskets with the fragments from the five barley loaves that had been more than they could eat. (John 6:8–14)

What floored me was that these were the words of Jesus, and though I’ve attended church for so many years, I never heard them. Did I? They sounded so present-day. I thought of my own life, and the struggles of my loved ones, how we have spent so much time struggling to make peace with our emptiness, our brokenness. Having wandered unawares into this story, I began writing meditations on these words. I’ve consequently been dazzled, moved, and transformed. I am not the person I was a year ago. Studying this miracle, repeatedly coming back to gather the fragments, these three words, daydreaming about them, carrying them everywhere in my pocket, has opened up more possibilities than I ever imagined.

I have more love and trust, and quite honestly, the grief of the spaces left behind from disease, the years of being unheld, the loneliness I have always carried—all gone. This is a miracle.

I cannot speak for anyone else; I can only share my own vulnerable truth that this year of ardent fragment gathering has filled me with an unshakeable certainty that God’s love and abundance is here, right now, alongside us and in us.

I am not out to defend any miracle as true, real, possible, or logical. As I have read and researched the stories of miracles, for me, they have gotten completely out of hand. Winged things, they fly around, dart here and there, land, show their gorgeous magic, then fly away into the clouds, camouflaged. Just when I think I’ve heard them all, another one appears. Many are outlandish. In fact, most of them are. That’s what makes them miracles.

They encompass, by their very nature, the words abundance and gratitude. But these words are thrown around ceaselessly and everywhere, to the point where their meaning has been washed away. Here, I want to take them back into their full vibrancy. I believe that if we find and feel the wonder, it redefines the broken world. Yes, a broken world of inescapable sorrow, despair, and horror, but also a world bursting with possibility and grace if we see that we’re given not just what we need, but maybe even more.

Gather the Fragments by Maureen O'Brien

11 thoughts on “Gather the Fragments”

  1. What I have read here resonates on so many levels — fragmentation can feel a lot like brokenness — but gathering the fragments allows for a new vision and a new sense of abundance and possibilities. It brings to mind the beauty possible in mosaics…

  2. I love the idea of gathering the fragments. They are part of something that was, whether good or bad. With grief, the fragments may be memories. As a quilter, it is the fragments of a large piece of fabric that, when gathered with other fragments, becomes a beautiful quilt. Or with stained glass, fragments of broken glass, gathered and joined, become a beautiful piece of art. When exposed to the light, it’s beauty comes alive. What if we were like that? If we gather and embrace all the fragments of our life and then allow them to be touched by the Light of Christ, how would we be changed?

    1. Maureen O'Brien

      Peace Mary Lou!
      I really appreciate your response to my work, and offering the image of quilting and stained glass. Thank you, and blessings!

  3. I am so inspired by Maureen’s article and by both of the comments, which offer great examples…a mosaic and a quilt. I am also struck with viewing winged things as miracles. If we can be in awe of any one of God’s tiny creatures, how much more could we treat every human being as the miracle that he or she is! Imagine if everyone who reads Maureen’s blog and book is inspired to view the “fragments” of our societies as miracles and gather them in with kindness and compassion. No one should be wasted. The result…an ever expanding beautiful quilted mosaic tapestry touched by the Light of Christ, his kingdom here on earth. Thank you ladies and bless you for this inspiration! I can’t wait to read the book!

    1. Maureen O'Brien

      Joan, it means a lot to me as a writer that my work resonated with you–thank you so much for taking the time to comment on both my work and the words of Mary Lou…peace to you! Maureen

  4. I would love to purchase some of these books but I require Large Print. Do you intend at all to publish in Large Print?

  5. This is the same thing…in Japan there’s an art form that involves piecing together the broken fragments of ceramics ,instead of ‘invisible’ mending however each place of joining is then overlaid with gold, silver or beautiful lacquer.
    Transforming instead of chucking out, putting together not scattering.
    Beautiful eh?
    My once big rambling loving family of 4 generations has been broken and shattered and scattered, factionalized.
    Maureen,ladies, thank you for showing me that gathering in the fragments IS possible….and Voilà…I think I just felt a wee miracle flutter by.

    1. Maureen O'Brien

      Thank you Marg for sharing the hope and hardship too…I love the image of the cracked mends shining with gold…thank you! Maureen

  6. Thank you for the thought “gather the fragments” It has resonated with me but I don’t know why yet. I can’t wait to reflect and find out.

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