Months before the Summer Games open in Beijing, the purpose and meaning of the Olympics seem to be getting obscured already.
As the five-month Olympic torch relay debuted last week at the lighting ceremony in Greece, activists used the event to urge a boycott of the Games in protest of China's recent crackdown in Tibet. European leaders, while refusing to take such a radical step, debated whether to dent China's publicity coup by withdrawing their teams from the opening ceremonies.
This isn't the first time the Olympic spirit has been dampened – whether by politics, bribery, or performance-enhancing drugs. But right in the middle of this latest controversy is a powerful symbol that points to the higher meaning of the Games: an "eternal flame."
While the torch, which remains lit for the duration of the Olympics, is rooted in Greek mythology, it also has spiritual significance. It illumines the fact that the Olympic spirit is a constant, undying presence in individuals' lives around the world.
Wait, your life? Yes. Today it's forgivable for thinking that the Olympics are more a mass marketing opportunity. But let's back up – and brush up on Latin.
Citius, altius, fortius – faster, higher, stronger. That's the motto of the Olympics and the essence of the Olympic spirit. It's something anyone can express, whether working on a barge on the Mississippi, sweeping the streets in Mumbai, or riding horseback across the steppes of Mongolia. And the fact that all humanity shares that ability and opportunity – to strive for better and more perfect goals moment by moment, day by day – is a unifying, uplifting spiritual truth. It points to humanity's shared Creator, who is expressing Himself in infinite, outstanding ways – reflecting His perfection, grandeur, beauty, freedom, joy, enthusiasm, and devotion.
Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Christian Science and this newspaper, demonstrated that ability. She overcame decades of chronic illness to go on to heal hundreds of people – many of fatal conditions – through her work.
Her article "Fidelity" hints at how she accomplished so much: "There is no excellence without labor; and the time to work, is now. Only by persistent, unremitting, straightforward toil; by turning neither to the right nor to the left, seeking no other pursuit or pleasure than that which cometh from God, can you win and wear the crown of the faithful" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," p. 340).
A flame that doesn't go out represents this fidelity. It takes diligence to maintain a fire – one can't fall asleep, but must remain alert. And one must tend it, adding new fuel when necessary. Likewise must anyone devoted to perfection tend his or her own inner fire – the passion for spiritual growth and Christian demonstration. The Bible is full of such fuel. It alights in one a true sense of identity, unencumbered by limitations of procrastination, sluggishness, selfishness, indulgence, and discouragement. In place of such traits, it presents one's true nature as active, alert, unselfish, disciplined, persistent, undaunted, free – soaring higher in the understanding of humanity's unlimited potential as the image and likeness of a loving, omnipotent God.
Seeing oneself as inherently including these qualities enables one to partake in the Olympic spirit. To progress faster, to reach higher, to be stronger. Or to be more loving. Or patient, kind, humble. To be a better team player, a more flexible and tender spouse or friend, a more consistent parent, a more appreciative son or daughter.
While the Olympic spirit takes on special meaning as athletes around the world prepare to showcase their devotion, it's something one can live out for all eternity. And whenever the fire within is dimmed by discouragement, the Bible offers this fuel: "Be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord" (I Cor. 15:58).