“…. and thank you for letting the Blue Jays win tonight,” my daughter Cecilia prayed at bedtime after the Jays won Game Five of the American League Division Series to advance to the Championships.
“Cee-ya!” Gordon interjected, marching indignantly into the room in the middle of her prayers, “You can’t thank God for letting the Blue Jays win! It doesn’t matter who wins! It’s just about having fun!!” Cecilia was momentarily (and atypically) dumbfounded. She and I were still basking in the rosy glow of our team having won. She naturally wanted to include this feel-good event in her prayers. What could be wrong with that? And really, weren’t those three Rangers’ errors a distinct judgement from God against the ridiculous ump call which had temporarily put the Jays behind? (I suspect she was also made speechless by this sudden role reversal: interjections, indignation and vehemence are normally Cecilia’s department in relationship to Gordon. As the older sister, she assumes herself to hold a wealth of knowledge and righteousness which it is her duty to dispense regularly to her brother in the forms of correction and instruction. That shoe didn’t feel all that comfortable to her on the other foot).
Sibling dynamics aside, I was left musing over the very questions Gordon’s six year old astuteness pointed to: What does God make of our sports? What does God think of the prayers that ascend with such sincerity and hope and gratitude by players and fans on both sides of play-off baseball? Is God pleased with the public prayer of thanksgiving that is given from a grateful ball player when a home run is scored? Is the divine ego stroked at all by the fact that millions of people are watching as those words are ecstatically mouthed heavenward: thank you Lord! Surely God must wish that we could collectively get as animated for, say, celebrating Epiphany or reducing greenhouse gases as we do about a Canadian team inching closer to the World Series? We can certainly conclude that God must feel utter disgust for us when fun and games become brawls and riots and vandalism – so pointless, so commonly accepted as a reasonable side effect to seemingly unjust refereeing calls or even just disappointing bad luck (“They just don’t want Canadians to win!”—the recurring narrative of our country’s professional athletics). A month ago I read the NFL feature in Rollingstone magazine in which quarterback Russell Wilson credited God with preventing him from throwing the extra yard it would have taken his interception to clinch his second Super Bowl championship. “God told me it was part of his plan,” he explained. And while I appreciate the faithfulness it takes to trust God even in times of disappointment and challenge, it didn’t quite ring true to me that God might have been puppeteering that, or any other, Super Bowl game.
I should be clear: I am the epitome of a band wagon baseball fan. My nerves could not handle year-round cheering (neither could my backside—we’re talking three hours of edge-of-the-seat sitting to make it through one of these baseball games! How do people do this on a regular basis?). I feel a sense of pure gladness for these periodic sports’ occasions (Olympics, women’s soccer, that long-ago year when the Leafs made it to post-season…) which invite us out of the ordinary worries and routines of life into a shared sense of the festive. Yes, I wish that people were as excited about voting on Monday as they are about watching the game today. Yes, the adrenaline that courses through my body for nine straight innings is ridiculous, illogical. My nails get gnawed down to the quick, I am restless and jumpy and high-strung, my hand mindlessly reaches for the nacho chips, eating to quell the blood-boiling anxiety….over what? There actually is nothing particularly at stake in whether they win or lose (maybe a few high-end pay cheques as players advance up or down the ranks. Do I care about that? Are any of those players even actually Canadian? Yes, the hype has been fun and it’s nice for our country to rally together around a sports’ team together, and it would have felt like a colossal national disappointment to have it all end here, but…?) Gordon is right: it’s just a game.
And yet. As a priest, my job is to lift up. I lift up so that we might say thank you, so that we might invite God in, so that we might be blessed. Somehow I can’t help but suspect that there is something to Lift Up about getting to cheer my heart out over pub grub with my two kids on a Wednesday night in October as the Blue Jay’s make it back from a two-game deficit to win their series on home turf.
So I lift up.
Gratitude for a quintessential evening with Cecilia and Gordon, one which feels extraordinary enough to the three of us that we will no doubt pull it out and polish it off as a treasured memory for years to come.
Marvel at athletes in their physical and mental prime, at the astounding combination of dedication, folly, good luck, encouragement and discipline which goes into any pursuit of excellence, any pushing of the human body and psyche to achieve a narrow brilliance in one particular skill. It feels true and right that so many of them would have prayers on their lips as they ascend those jaw-dropping heights of achievement.
Gladness that in our over-stimulated, massively entertaining world, we haven’t lost that very human aptitude for Carnival, for collectively leaving work early, setting up spontaneous gatherings of friends and strangers, so that we can have our senses heightened, and our joys and fears and challenges can be worked out in an arena where everything and nothing matters. Where we can agree to be swept together into a shared drama, and in doing so, we might for a few hours set aside any stakes that may actually be claiming their ground in our real lives, we might make memories as a community, as a country – silly, loud, whooping memories. And at the end of the nine innings, it really is just a game.
In the end, what I Lift Up is laughter. God is a Jays’ Fan in the same way that God is a Martha Fan. When I am particularly irritated with someone in my life, I will inevitably find myself ascribing to God a share in my irritation. God is on my side. And when I actually let God speak into my feelings — my hurt, my annoyance, my bafflement — God’s message to me is amply clear:
Yes, they are silly. So are you.
The words come to me wrapped in God’s love. For me and for the ones that I perceive as against me. Surely it must be lovely and amusing to God that sometimes we could choose ball gloves and sportsmanship to draw battle lines around, that we could offer up fervent prayers from all sides for all of our teams for strength and clarity and good saves and stellar hand-eye coordination and a few bursts of celebratory fireworks. That occasionally we could fight for reasons that are right and ultimately inconsequential: so we can push one another to be better, and we can be swept into a few shining moments of something that gets to be about all of us.