march of the chessmen

I was never any good at playing chess, but I used to play with the chess board and pieces. I liked the symmetry of it.  The way each light piece had its dark counterpart.  I would march them in two rows of graduated sizes across the board, one square by one square; a slow process, but I didn’t mind.  The light and dark rows would begin side by side, then march off in different directions, but finally meet again, in perfect order and perfect time.

I’ve always looked for life to be similarly symmetrical. I like the lines to connect, the pattern, begun, to be completed or repeated. But it doesn’t seem to work that way.  If the lines I pick manage to meet again, the colors are wrong, or the shapes have changed. Or if the pieces match, they just miss one another: a square too far to the right or to the left, one step too soon or too late.

Perhaps the problem lies in the fact that I limit potential patterns to the sixty-four light and dark squares of the chessboard, the thirty-two pieces I can see. The God of the universe does not see things on so small a scale.

He sweated blood. He knew he was going to die. He prayed He
sweated, not blood but drops like blood. Arterial. Pulsing. As if to sweat
this way might kill him. He could see how he would die and asked not
to die. The one to whom he prayed answered with silence. Clasped by a
hand of silence, at the end of an arm of silence, it was a cup of silence,
holding the countless counted beads of his unanswered answered
prayer.*

And that was the Lord of the universe, who knew the pattern even as He prayed.  Who knew that His arrival at the fullness of time must complete the pattern.  That His part, the bitter cup He must drink, would make the lines connect, the shapes match. Would make it glorious.

So that now, when I’m tempted to think the pattern is ruined, I know that it cannot be ruined, because He already finished it. I know that my tendency to equate my comfort with the successful working of the pattern is not truth. I know that somewhere on the other side of the cup of silence, I’ll be able to see the lines connecting, the shapes matching, the symmetry perfected in a pattern better than my plans — in perfect order and in perfect time.

*From Mark Jarman’s poem “As the couple turn toward each other,” included in Sarah Arthur’s At the Still Point: a Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time, Paraclete, 2010

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