Games and God

The outfielder’s throw was strong and on the money, and UCC’s all star third baseman was in perfect position to make the play, to end the inning, to preserve the tie score. The quest for the league championship would surely continue.

But something happened. Did the ball hit a wayward tuff of grass or bounce off of a demonic pebble? For some reason, it took an unexpected hop, handcuffed the infielder, and trickled just a few exasperating feet away. It wasn’t much, but it was just enough for the alert St. Mike’s player to score the winning run. End of game. End of playoffs. End of season. And for some boys, the end of organized sports.

What was remarkable about this oh-so-ordinary moment is that none of the players saw the unfortunate bounce as anything other than what it was: just a part of the game. A bad hop. As 70 year-old Bob Dylan might say, it was “a simple twist of fate.”

There is something in the nature of sports that helps us all understand that not everything in life works as planned. The universe is a tricky place and our ability to control it is modest at best. (I am reminded of the line: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”)

In the classroom, you may have the opportunity to redo the problem, rewrite the paper, redo the lab. All worthy and enriching exercises. But there are no mulligans in athletic competitions, and the arbitrary is always hovering on the edge, lurking there, giggling, just waiting for the chance to foil our best made plans.

***

In all schools, but especially in boys schools, we like to talk about developing students in mind, body, and spirit. Athletics plays a role in all 3 of these dimensions — and yet sometimes, we may feel a bit sheepish admitting this in public. It is as if our enthusiasm for athletics is an admission that we are all cases of arrested development.

Michael Novak offers solace in his book, “The Joy of Sports,” where he writes: “God is a sports fan. Certainly he is, if He likes to see humans straining to their utmost to be the best He made them, making moments of imperishable beauty. Sports have to be among his glories. I do not pretend to speak for Him but, looking everywhere for signs, I am often reminded of Him, not least by deeds of excellence and beauty. And so I think He must be, yes, an Artist Who sees and approves of what He’s made. So exquisitely, for the pleasure of the rest of us.”

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5 Responses to “Games and God”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    There is also something to that split second between being a hero and an also ran. You can’t achieve without a willingness to fail…but I’d prefer that “at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Teddy Roosevelt.

  2. Jim Power Says:

    The “push back” to my own argument is this: can we celebrate athletics without creating a “jockocracy”?

  3. Ian Skaith Says:

    One of the glorious aspects of attending a private school was the mandatory sports period that pushed the school day to 4-4:30PM. The public system lets the students out on the street before 3PM. This invites indolent behavior and a poor level of fitness. Students have lots of time to hang out at the mall. Of course there are many high school students who work in the afternoon but research has shown that over twenty work hours per week tends to impair academic performance in all but the brightest students.

  4. Chris Taylor Says:

    Jim – I am enjoying these commentaries. I found this one particularly relevant: I have broken my shoulder as a result of a rapid fire stumble – trip and subsequent fall onto the cold hard concrete of a Hogg Town sidewalk. This is extremely disappointing as it is a mere 12 days before my participation in a 200 km charity cycling journey for Princess Margaret Hospital for which I have been training all year.

    It is another life lesson akin to your parable, and while not as eloquent I am reminded that “Life is not about how you fall, but rather how you get up”, and “When a door closes . . . Open the windows”.

    Regards, CT

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