When I read that "learning how to surf" is the New Year’s resolution of fashion icon Tory Burch, I thought, “of course it is.” She can afford to travel to the warm, desirable locations where one can do that. Surfing will also provide her with the opportunity to sport her 2012 Resort Collection. Tory doesn’t know how to look anything less than beautiful in a swimsuit; I have no doubt she is the “Surfer Girl” the Beach Boys sang about. But according to her fashion blog Tory wants to learn to surf so she "can go with my boys instead of being a beach bystander." If Ms. Burch follows through on her resolution and I hope she does, she will find something much more than an adrenaline rush. She will encounter a sport that is as palpably spiritual as the community it draws together.
Surfers fascinate me. And as opposed to Tory Burch, they are often iconoclasts (wait, she’s a fashion designer…excuse me!) Their nature is fearless, and yet their sport makes them acutely aware of their limitations. They love and respect “Mother Ocean” and understand the role we all hold as stewards of God’s creation. Although surfing is a sport of one man/woman and one board, it’s rarely a singular endeavor. No, surfers form a community. A community that speaks a common language, that participates for the love of the sport (autotelic) and is one that exemplifies devotion.In the surfing documentary “Riding Giants” Sam George speaks of surfers in an important way when he says If you applied the same amount of devotion to a real pursuit like religion, do you think anyone would call you a religious bum? Probably not.
When you consider that surfing is really more than anything, a faith and devotion to that faith becomes paramount in your life, there is no such thing as a surf bum.
In this way, I think all Christians have a lot to learn from surfers. With surfers, it’s easy to identify their passion; it is central to their life. Essentially, their life bears witness to the truth what you do is who you become. And if you spend enough time around surfers you will realize that is always supported through community.
It is no different in Christian faith. In the article “If We Stop Loving People We Are in Terrible Trouble” Theodore Cardinal McCarrick states “We have to…hold youngsters close to the Lord and give them the opportunity of growing in their love of God and grow in the understanding that we are not made as individuals; we don’t save our souls as individuals, we save our souls as part of a community.”Catholicism in particular is distinguished from other Christian traditions in its understanding of and commitment to the principle of community. In "Catholicism," theologian Richard McBrien states “Even when the divine-human encounter is most personal and individual, it is still communal, in that the encounter is made possible by the mediation of a community of faith. For Catholicism, there is no relationship with God, however profound or intense, that dispenses entirely with the communal context of every relationship with God.” I have a strong suspicion that surfers understand this claim based on what they love, what they do, and how that is shared with others.
But many of us think, “it’s between God and me. I can work on my relationship with God on my time.” In our fast paced world, this is a scary proposition to me. The first thing that gets cut on a busy day is time for quiet, in prayer. Or many claim they get more out of an extra hour of sleep or their “alone time” than in going to Mass. But there's a big difference between being a bystander and a participant. Community benefits from our presence and in sharing our gifts. At its best, it will support us in our limitations and struggles, celebrate our joys and triumphs. At its worst, we may not "get a lot out of it" but to draw from a surfing mindset, it might be wise to "ride the wave" and keep your eye on the horizon.
Whatever your New Year's Resolution, I hope that you too may get a chance in 2012 to move from being a bystander to a participant either in surfing or in your faith tradition. I hope you spend time with Mother Ocean and God the Father. And like any surfer would say "Stay Stoked." 2012 is full of promise and potential--it is, after all, the year of the Dragon!
Community of Surfers
Tory and Surfers