After only a handful of pieces were added to the board, I watched in astonishment as all the pieces were swept off the board, and a puzzled look surfaced on my son’s face. His mother-in-law then recreated the game board and showed him how, in the next three moves, he would have lost their game of Go, no matter what he had done. (Go is an ancient Chinese game of strategy played with black and white pieces on a grid of lines.)
When our Granddaughter started first grade this past April, she signed up for the Go Club, which meets weekly after school. Recently she mentioned to her father that she wondered why the boy she was playing against hadn’t taken some specific moves that would have guaranteed his win. Her father realized that she could “see” several moves ahead. He also realized that her opponent couldn’t do this yet, and that Granddaughter didn’t understand she has a capacity that her opponent did not have.
Not everyone has the ability to “see” the outcome of “moves” as they are made. The ones who do are often called prophets. Do they foretell the future, or is it really something more like some individuals have the capacity to “see” what will happen if we stay on the path we are on?
As I write, it’s the time of year for Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Built around three Spirits – of Christmas past, present and future – this tale is one of presenting the great biblical exhortation to choose life. Scrooge, living in a world of bah-humbug, is shown how his life will end (a lonely funeral) should he remain on the path he has chosen (having turned away from his generosity, his family, celebrating Christmas, and the needs of others including his faithful bookkeeper). A reminder of what his life could have been was shown to him by the Spirit of Christmas past.
This is what the biblical prophets do – they see the outcome of past and present choices we make (as both individuals, usually society’s decision makers, and as a culture) which they set in the context of God’s desired future for God’s creation.
God desires wholeness for Creation, signs of which include entering into right relationships, reconciliation, and care for the earth and her creatures. In this understanding, there are prophets among us who tell us what to expect if we stay, for example, on our current ecological path (continued indiscriminant use of plastics and non-renewable energy sources leading to severe strain and change on the earth).
Such sight is a blessing (a call to life), and a challenge (who will listen and turn to a different path?). There is also the difficulty of discerning who is the true prophet and who is the false prophet. Whose sight is true, and whose isn’t? As with today, in the Hebrew Scriptures there is mention of false prophets, people who told what those in power wanted to hear, what supported the rulers’ own self-focused desires. Discernment is not easy. Our biggest clue is how consistent a voice, or “sight”, is with God’s desire for Wholeness.
Go is a challenging game, and is easily set up to begin again. This too is a reminder that we can learn new ways of seeing, start new habits, and make different choices as we continue in our life journeys. Adjusting our choices for the benefit of others (“live simply so that others may simply live”) so that Wholeness may reign happens one step at a time. As the Season of Advent draws you into examining your preparedness, may you also see ahead to where your path is taking you.