Sudoku and the art of life in the spirit

In 1974, a book appeared which immediately sold 5 million copies. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig, explored the way a motorcycle imposes its will on its rider.

If the bike is not functioning I cannot just hope it will sort itself out. Motorcycles don’t have immune systems. If there is something wrong I have to discover exactly what it is and do something about it. That imposes a discipline on me. “The place,” Pirsig wrote, “to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.” We don’t need religion to tell us that. Motorcycles can do it for us.

For some time now I have found moments of relaxation in doing the Japanese puzzle, Sudoku. Sr Christopher CJ, aged 102, keeps her mind alert that way! It is a “simple” grid of nine squares, each containing nine squares in which you write in a number, 1-9. The catch is, no number can appear twice in any one square, horizontal line or vertical column. The designer of the puzzle puts in some numbers arranged according to whether they are feeling kind or fiendish. So those are the mechanics. Now for the experience!

I began with easy puzzles and soon got hooked. It is quite satisfying to fill the 81 squares. Then I graduated to harder ones and began to feel frustrated when the numbers didn’t fit. I’d rushed a bit and not noticed something and ended up in a tangle. Sudoku has no immune system. So I rub everything out and start again. I promise myself this time I will go slowly and methodically. I do so, but then get completely blocked. Gridlock! There seems to be no way forward. Something in me says, ‘this is annoying.’ But something else says, ‘this is getting interesting!’

Then I remember St Ignatius’ rules for discernment. “The conduct of our enemy may be compared to the tactics of a leader intent on seizing and  plundering a position he desires. … he will explore the fortifications and defences of the stronghold, and attack at the weakest point.” (Spiritual Exercises  #327). I set about copying the enemy and finding the weakest point. It may take days, even weeks. I seem to be making zero progress.

But then one day, one sweet hour, I find that point. And the whole “stronghold” collapses. In our life in the Spirit we call it consolation!

Is there any need to spell out the lessons learned? Our life in Christ is easy to begin with. The newly baptised are often enthusiasts and that is good. But then comes the hard bit: why this challenge? Why are things so difficult? I can get annoyed, frustrated and lose hope. Or I can say, ‘I am not going to let this get me down. I am going to work through this till I find a way.’ There is a way. There always is! And in the life in the Spirit we are not alone.

15 October 2017                      Sunday 28 A

Isaiah 25:6-10                                    Philippians 4:12-20                Matthew 22:1-14

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