When I was growing up in New York, come April, my long winter gave way to the great outdoors. To my boy's heart, Spring and baseball were one and the same. The diamond was my promised land.
To this day, when I hear an umpire call, "Batter up!" for the first game of the season, it is as if the Psalmist had time-traveled to a broadcast booth with a message just for me to hear: "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me" (51:10).
There is something joyous in the sound of a bat smacking a baseball. Something jubilant when a fastball explodes in a catcher's mitt. America's pastime still stirs in me an epiphany of sorts.
Of course, this strong sense of renewal transcends baseball's being just a game. Fair play, honest competition, doing one's individual best while at the same time subordinating personal ambition as part of a team were values I learned playing ball.
There were disappointments in my childhood field of dreams. I laugh looking back at my reaction as an 8-year-old when my Brooklyn Dodgers moved away to a foreign land called California, teaching me to be careful where and to whom I gave my heart. By age 14, a dawning maturity - I really wasn't that good; wasn't even going to make it on my high school team, let alone the major leagues - forced me to look elsewhere for life's meaning and a deeper sense of self-worth.
There was also one inescapable sadness. The new-mown grass of the very ball field I had thought my promised land aggravated allergies and asthma that left me sidelined at times, unable to play baseball and be with the guys. This condition colored my worldview, convincing me that life wasn't fair, and that to cope with suffering I needed to be stoic (even though at the time I didn't know what that word meant).
It wasn't until years later, at the outset of my study of Christian Science, that I was healed of thinking that something heartless had happened to me when my illness kept me from playing baseball - or ever could happen in whatever field of endeavor I pursued.
As I read "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy for the first time, these words leapt off the page like a home run: "It is profane to fancy that the perfume of clover and the breath of new-mown hay can cause glandular inflammation, sneezing, and nasal pangs" (p. 175). Right there, as if I were in the batter's box waiting for a pitch, I prayed my way through to a healing of allergies. The physical condition just dissolved. But more significant, my sense of having been denied anything good - including the chance to play baseball - vanished as well.
I soon found that once spiritual healing begins, the good that it sets in motion overflows. In high school I had studied the famous poem "To an Athlete Dying Young" by A.E. Housman. The poem harbors the ironic and pessimistic sentiment that no matter how great the athletic achievement, it would be better for a young athlete who has received acclaim after winning a major race to die young - thereby escaping the fate of growing old and being forgotten.
For many people, reflections on youth lead to that same sadness and loss. But as I gained an understanding of the eternal seasons of God, I saw that for all time, mental, moral, and spiritual renewal are more certain than the planets in their orbit. I grasped that we never lose God-given abilities.
Christian Science led me to a new awareness not only about my freedom from allergies and asthma, but to a greater spiritual insight into the overcoming of the belief that at a certain point, aging and physical decline limit participation not only in sports, but in life itself. I realized that this simply can't happen in God's ballpark.
Catching and throwing a baseball, or simply watching a game on TV, cause winter thoughts - especially any chill that might touch the heart - to vanish.
Adapted from the Christian Science Sentinel.