Deaf to Sin

Last week I acquired yet another chess board. One wonders why I am so fascinated by them, considering the lamentable quality of my play. The latest addition is remarkable for three things: its age, its size and its provenance.

First, it is decades old, possibly coming from the 1950s. Secondly, it is a travel set, one that has tiny pieces which can be easily transported, fitted into a pocket or bag. Thirdly, it was once the property of Mr John Theodore. This fellow was a prominent member of the Barnoldswick Chess Club and well regarded in the district for his prowess among the oieces. In a newspaper article marking his and Mrs Theodore’s Silver wedding anniversary, it was said that he developed his skills while employed as a shoe repairer at the Barnoldswick Cooperative Society. Being profoundly deaf, this game of deep thought and foresight was one at which he could face opponents on a level field. He was soon playing games at Leeds, Bradford, Blackpool, Blackburn and Blackpool, and was usually undefeated. Once, a runner-up in an all-England Chess Championship broke his journey to London to challenge him, having heard of Mr Theodore’s ability in the game. Mr Theodore beat the finalist by four games to one. It was never claimed that John Theodore did well at chess despite his disability. Rather, he told that reporter “I have an advantage over my opponents for there is no sound to distract my concentration”. In other words, his handicap only made him better, not worse. It was a gift, not a loss.

Mr Theodore was a committed Christian, a member of the local Gospel Mission, where I once worshipped. In heaven these past decades, he hears more wonderful things than anything our ears might catch on earth. Yet while he was in the body- a body that did not work correctly by our standards- he turned a ‘disability’ into a strength. Planning ahead, anticipating an opponent’s moves and thinking strategically are all done best without distraction. Perhaps this is only one reason why my chess is so poor.

Sometimes, not hearing the world’s din, its whispers and its allures, will make us better players on earth. Focussing on the task of living a righteous life, pleasing to God, usually requires a degree of deafness to sin’s siren call.