The 'sounding solitude' of Scrabble

(Moritz Schmidt, via and used under Creative Commons zero)

I am a Scrabble player — maybe even addicted to it! Playing Scrabble helps me cope with life. My usual partner is a musician who is also a mystic: this makes for a heady combination.

It's a time when we don't have to be "nice" to each other: we can be competitors and just enjoy the game.

I'm reminded of a moment when "nunnish niceness," was brought home to me. My Irish mother was visiting us in the convent. After a few days I asked her how she was doing. "I'm dying!" she said with deep emotion. Seeing my surprise, she continued, "I'm dying of terminal niceness!" And we both laughed!

Getting back to my enjoyment of Scrabble, perhaps I could follow an intuition. Strange as it may seem, playing Scrabble calls me to a different level of consciousness, where I can let go momentarily of wrestling with our hurting world. I'm not equating it with prayer, but it might be a prelude to another consciousness for me. As I sit across from my alert partners, my mind travels down the roads of new possibilities, and I find ways to bring letters together into words legitimized in the crazy collection called the Scrabble Dictionary. I'm convinced no one speaks with most of the words found there —

However, playing Scrabble is a challenge that takes concentration, and I find it a wholesome way to enter into another sphere of energy.

After ending the game, whether I win or lose, there's a touchstone with possibility that wasn't there before. Maybe it's the companionship or the fun of being competitors. We jokingly say that "we dispense with the charism" when we play.

For a moment I realize the intense engagement in a good Scrabble game takes me into a realm devoid of small talk, world issues and health. Enjoying simply being with others, matching wits, and finding the joy in another's move, wondering why I didn't think of it, all renew my energy.

Quite by chance, I read something in the Way of Perfection by St. Teresa of Avila that delighted me. She wrote: "Whoever has experienced it [recollection] will understand; the soul is like one who gets up from the table after winning a game, for it already sees what the things of the world are. It rises up at the best time, as one who enters a fortified castle to be safe from enemies. There is a withdrawing of the senses from exterior things and a renunciation of them in such a way that, without one's realizing it, the eyes close so as to avoid seeing them, and so that the sight might be more awake to things of the soul." (Chapter 28, p. 142 of my version).

Her words invite me into a greater fidelity to quiet prayer, pulling away from the many good things I need to do in order to strengthen relationships, heal wounds in our broken city and reach out to Sister Earth as species are extinguished even as I write this.

Sitting in the silence, feeling drawn by Christ, I unite with all who feel lost and alone. I wait to be found. Sometimes in my impatience I leave too soon. But when I am faithful, there is a tiny tunnel of hope that begins to shine through, calling me to welcome the Quiet. This may lead to Christ-consciousness, that space of inner trust that lets go of judging myself, others, or politicians! This is when I can listen to the "sounding solitude," as John of the Cross calls it in his Spiritual Canticle.

This reflection has led me to recognize the common sense of the great mystic, St. Teresa of Avila, (born March 28, 1515) who continues to teach me about the necessity of contemplation as a means of coping with life, even after 500 years.

Playing Scrabble gives a brief respite from the angst of life. It also gives me a sense of hope that no matter what faces us, if I approach life as a game, maybe I, too, will open the door of my heart and be surprised by the Divine Game-Changer.

[Judith Best, SSND, is coordinator of and gives presentations on the heritage of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. She is also exploring evolution as the bridge between science and religion.]

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