Friday, March 6, 2015

Getting Closer to God Through Sports: 5 Elements

My senior course is about so much
more than Angelo Taylor's prayer of gratitude
after winning the 400 m in Sydney
When people ask me what I teach, I often pause. If I'm at the dentist or a place where I don't want to engage, it's just so much easier to say "English." Unless I encounter a voracious reader or Shakespeare-phile, I'm let off the hook. But given the time and space, I admit I teach in the Religious Studies department. It's such a formal title, no? I then add that I teach a required course for juniors—Ethics, Morality and Social Justice; I also teach a Spirituality course to seniors.

If I'm talking to a sports fan or someone who I sense is open to a creative spirit, I go deeper. I share that I teach a course that I designed: Sports and Spirituality. "It's how to learn about the spiritual life through the analogy of sport," I say. As you can imagine, a range of questions and comments flow from there. Some are so thoughtful and inquisitive. Others, are confused. This past weekend, I was asked "so does that mean God cares who wins the Super Bowl." I tried to appreciate their—joke? quip? but I couldn't. That's precisely what we are NOT talking about. 

In "Vision of Enhancement" Richard Rohr, OFM writes "Spirituality is about seeing. It's not about earning or achieving. It's about relationship rather than results or requirements. Once you see, the rest follows."

Far too often, the only thing people "see" are the "measurables"—the point to the sky, the prayer circle after a game or the inclusion of God as someone to thank. But I see things differently; I equip my students with the ability to do the same. I think this is critical in society today. Why? Because as Martin Siegel writes in the article "Good Sports:"

If a millennium from now someone were to examine the artifacts of our civilization, he or she would discover that in many places sports facilities were the largest and most prominent buildings. This discovery might lead to the conclusion that sports were one of the most powerful influences in our culture. And that conclusion would be correct. 
Past civilizations left behind colossal cathedrals to glorify God because for them ultimate power resided in religion. We will leave behind colossal sport stadiums, because these are, for many, our cathedrals. Sport is our shared religion.
To further his claim, Rabbi Siegel examines five essential forces that connect humanity to their Creator in daily life. Sports offers an expression of these energies. They are:
The image featured in "Good Sports." American Mag writes: TEAMWORK. Gonzaga and Wichita State during an N.C.A.A. tournament basketball game on March 23, 2013
1. Breath: It manifests the original energy of the Creator. The word "Spirituality" which stems from Spiritus literally means "breath." God breathed into Adam giving him life. The Risen Christ breathed onto the disciples in the locked room. Our spirituality invites us to think of the breath that fills our lives and animates our days.

As a coach and an athlete, paying attention to that breath is fundamental. What are great golfers trained to do before taking a critical putt? Take a deep breath. Try it.

2. Sound: Music expresses the energy of the Creator. Indeed it does. Nothing gives me life in the way that music does. It has invigorated me through dark days. It connects me to people past and present in a profound way. I love and respect certain people in my life simply for their taste in music ;-)

When I watch a good basketball player with excellent ball handling skills, I notice that they almost dribble to their own soundtrack. I try to imagine the beat that underscores their craft. It's awesome.

3. Nature (or the created world) is the most extensive manifestation of the Creator that humans can experience. 

I once believed God's greatest creation could be found in human beings. The sheer diversity of talents and abilities...even cultures, language and physical beauty is astounding. Then I climbed Half Dome at Yosemite....

4. Physical activities are the part of nature through which the energy of the Creator is manifested most intimately for human beings

My next posting is a viewer's pictorial guide to the "30 for 30: You Don't Know Bo." I think everyone should; so does the director John Bonfiglio. Jackson's physical activities and capabilities reflect the wonder of God's creation. As Howie Long said, "He made great athletes look good."

5. Symbolic intellect human beings create forms to express their deepest knowledge to themselves and to each other.

Throughout his career, Andre Agassi asked himself time and again "Does it really matter?" I believe professional athletes confront this question more than we realize. My answer is an unequivocal "yes, I does." It matters because as Siegel writes: Sport provides a real and symbolic means through which individual life potential can be realized and experienced. This experience of individual and communal self-transcendence is the deepest desire of human beings.

"Good Sports" captures how and why I should teach a Spirituality course that connects to Sport. I encourage you to read his reflection. It's a great step toward helping you "see" as Rohr invites us to do. The rest will follow.

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