MILLIONS of television viewers in the Northern Hemisphere are being caught up in another season of football in its various forms--from American football, to rugby, to the world game of association football (or soccer). All, in their individual ways, are team games in which the common good is prized above individual acclaim, and strong leadership is essential.
One autumn many years ago the players on a rugby team at an internationally famous university chose a versatile forward, who later became a friend of mine, to be their captain. Recalling the experience, he told me that at first he was overawed by the thought that he had been chosen to captain one of the most famous rugby clubs in England. He would be required to lead by example on and off the field.
It was natural for him, as a student of Christian Science, to pray about the best way to meet the responsibilities facing him. He realized that effective leaders are also good followers, and that his first duty was to follow Christ Jesus' example and serve God. His success as team captain would rest not on personal brilliance or charisma, but on his readiness to follow God's direction.
As a teenager, my friend had become accustomed to treating the Bible as his training manual. And he especially loved the Apostle Paul's assurance in his letter to the Ephesians that there is ''one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all (4:6). Now, as never before, he had an opportunity to prove the truth of Paul's insight.
The Discoverer of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, illuminates the Scriptures in her book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. She writes, ''The manifestation of God through mortals is as light passing through the window-pane. The light and the glass never mingle, but as matter, the glass is less opaque than the walls. The mortal mind through which Truth appears most vividly is that one which has lost much materiality--much error--in order to become a better transparency for Truth'' (p. 295 ).
When the new captain reread that passage in Science and Health, he realized that, for transparency, the windows of thought need to be squeaky clean. Prayer is like a pail of water and cloth, enabling us to clean our ''windows'' so that we can be receptive to the spiritual reality of our relation to God, and thereby develop inner strength, vigor, agility, and receptivity to fresh ideas.
The captain's duty was to pray that God's will would be done, that through the season that lay ahead, God would be glorified--not the college or the captain or the other players. He prayed to express those spiritual qualities that would set the highest possible example for the team; to learn to see right through the ''materiality''--the ''error''--of which Mrs. Eddy wrote, and to see the flawlessness of man made in the image of God.
Everyone on the team could be a transparency for the genuine goodness that is derived solely from God. Human strength alone wins nothing that is truly satisfying and lasting. Real progress comes when we put God first in all our endeavors. Part of his task as captain would be to identify each player's God-given talents, create opportunities for those talents to flourish, and bring the players together as an effective whole.
He reasoned that because each player was a son of God, each was therefore principled, reliable, teachable, and responsive only to God's will. As Mrs. Eddy says in Science and Health: ''Man's genuine selfhood is recognizable only in what is good and true. Man is neither self-made nor made by mortals. God created man'' (p. 294).
Throughout the season, that spiritually grounded unity was expressed in better teamwork, greater generosity toward opponents, freedom from serious injury, and many fine wins. And there was ready acknowledgment from several players that the real victory belonged to God.
The next season my friend was unavailable to captain the university team. But the following year his teammates again voted for him, making him only the second player in the long history of that university to captain the rugby team for two seasons!