I walked into an old church in Eastern Europe admiring the beauty of the gothic architecture. The woodwork, the gold intertwined with marble and extensive use of stained glass filled it with light and color. Carvings of stone that resembled laced embroidery adorned the walls and internal steeples. My eyes instinctively darted to the ornate ceilings. The intricate patterns and the colorful murals that stretched from the altar to the highest domed ceilings made me crane my neck to view its grandeur in its entirety; a celestial canopy of diverse colors representing the glorious hereafter. Then, a child among the crowd tugged at his mother’s skirt and observed loudly, “Look momma, the floor is like a large chess board.”
True to his observation, the floor of this majestic church leading to the altar and other sacred areas of the church was checkered black and white, in complete contrast to the walls, stained glass and ceiling. A mental flashback took me to the old churches I’d visited on my travels. I recalled most of them had checkerboard flooring of either red or black and white marble at their entrance, or close to the area leading up to the altar or leading to an extremely holy corner within the church itself. It made me wonder. More than simply decorative, the mosaic pavement or flooring must bear a special meaning. Could it be that the pavement or ground, the area on which people walk and come forward toward an altar is emblematic of the duality of human life, checkered with good and evil?
Could it be purposely made to represent earth, the material world, contrasting with the ceiling, made to represent heaven and the spiritual world?
White and black. Light and dark. Reflection of all colors and the absence of color. They are opposites. They offer a high contrast widely used to depict the dichotomy in life and the duality in everything. Whereas white has been a symbol of innocence, virginity, virtue and the holy, black is the symbol for death, mourning, sin, evil, the strange, the unexplained. They appear everywhere. In literature they often define the hero and the villain either in their dwelling, surroundings or clothing. (The Iliad, Paradise Lost, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Harry Potter, etc.). In mythology, they appear as Hades, God of the underworld, a place of darkness contrasting with the celestial realm of the gods. In religion, God separates light from darkness in Genesis. The Bible associates light with God, truth and virtue, darkness with sin and the devil.
When thinking of the idea of duality, and the concept of good and evil, white and black, sacred and profane, positive and negative, joy and sorrow, bitter and sweet, I can’t help pairing them to neutralize or balance the intensity of each. The one is the reverse of the other. Yet these forces, though they appear to be opposites, may in fact be complementary. They do not cancel each other out; they simply balance each other. But in order to fully grasp one side of the dual nature of something, I realize that I need to experience or feel the other side to compare and fully understand the opposing side.
How can I know what “up” is if I don’t know what “down” is? Or what sweet and sour, hot and cold, young and old, good and evil are to one another if I am in the absence of either one? If there is no opposing counterpart, then it can’t have any value to you or me. Which means we need to expand our consciousness and recognize that duality is necessary for us to learn to make a choice in white or black. Understanding duality is a good starting point.
I asked the little boy if he knew how to play chess. He said yes and that he always chose the white pieces. I asked why. He answered, “The rule is that white starts the game, and white takes the advantage of winning the game.” I gave him a puzzled look. “It’s in the statistics,” he said. “But it must be played well to win,” he added smugly. “Is there ever a draw?” I asked. “Well, yes if you have two grandmasters at the game!”(British grandmaster Nigel Short wrote…. “With perfect play, God versus God…chess is a draw.”)
Such is the debate over black and white, light and dark. Is there ever a perfect game in the duality of light and dark, white and black to achieve the celestial canopy of colors?