Rugby rampage

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

If you think some of the biggest, brawniest US football players can get wild at times, wait till you meet a pack of 300-pound rugby players marauding through the early hours of the morning!

When I knew these "chaps" best, rugby was still a truly amateur sport. A sheer love of the game and a thirst for victory kept them focused and motivated. But because they were free of the rigid discipline imposed on the millionaire professionals on the American gridiron, they could sometimes get pretty rowdy.

One rugby season, I reported for the BBC on a series of matches played in Ireland in the depths of a soggy, gray winter. After a game in the southwestern town of Limerick, I was so cold and wet that I raced back to the warmth of my hotel room and fell asleep.

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Within moments, it seemed, I was wakened by loud voices and a hammering at the door. It was a posse of burly forwards determined to extend their victory celebration to everyone in the touring group, especially teetotalers like me who had never fully participated in their after-match parties.

Instinctively, I uttered a silent prayer that went something like this: "God, this is Your moment. You are in control. We're all Your offspring - blessed with Your kindness. We're members of the same team - Your team. We won our match this afternoon, and now this victory must be Yours!"

I'd lived long enough with boisterous, hard-drinking rugby players to recognize the incongruity in our relationship. They didn't dislike me. Most of the time they were happy to have me drink something non-alcoholic while they knocked back their beers. But on this evening in Limerick, my abstinence had obviously rankled them, and they were determined to exorcise their indignation in a forced drinking ritual.

I let them in, sprinkling the air with light banter as they inspected my room. Suddenly they pounced on me. Physical resistance served no purpose as they held my arms in a vice-like grip, splashed beer in my face, and demonstrated how they wanted me to indulge.

But I was determined not to allow them to turn my love for them into fear. I prayed for a way to spiritually embrace these intruders who at other times had been solid teammates with respect for my lifestyle.

I knew they had just as much capacity as anyone for heartfelt friendship, respect for others' values, and self-control. They were capable of an unpretentious, muscular love of the kind Christ Jesus demonstrated among the Galilean fishermen he recruited for his team. When enemies reviled Jesus and spat in his face, he didn't flinch. He set a perfect example of unconditional love.

It's likely that some of Jesus' disciples may have been as rugged and athletic as the front-row forwards who were testing me. If the disciples could learn from Jesus about the tenderness inherent in all of us, and go out into the dusty highways and byways to help and heal others, why shouldn't anyone respond to genuine brotherly kindness?

As the first bottle was thrust in my face, a voice bellowed across the room: "No! Hold it. Let him go."

The team's vice captain, who until that moment had hovered almost unnoticed by me in the background, came forward with huge restraining arms flung out in rescue. He held back his teammates and beckoned to me to get up. He indicated that it was time for the invaders to leave, and pointed to the door. Sheepishly they slunk out of the room, heads down. Just before he left, the vice captain turned, looked back at me, and smiled.

That smile was worth a thousand victories on the playing field. I felt genuine love at that moment. It was unmistakable.

Now, that was a rugby moment worthy of real celebration!

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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