Since their inauguration in 1896, the modern Olympic Games have mirrored the times in which they have been held.
World wars canceled the Games in 1916, 1940, and 1944. Boycotts substantially reduced the number of competitors in Montreal in 1976, Moscow in 1980, and Los Angeles in 1984. And security for athletes, spectators, officials, and the media has been a key issue for the organizers since the Games in Berlin in 1936.
This year in Athens there is more than the usual concern about possible disruption from outside. There are fears that political activists - including terrorists - might seize the opportunity to try to interfere with an event that is the antithesis of what would seem to be their agenda.
Yet many people are looking forward to this year's Games, not with fear, but with the Olympic ideal formulated by founder Pierre de Coubertin at the forefront of their minds. Coubertin envisioned gatherings every four years that would cultivate international understanding and generate peace among nations. He wished to provide opportunities for athletes to break through physical and mental barriers and compete in the words of the Olympic motto, "Swifter, higher, stronger."
This year, people of faith everywhere will be praying that the wisdom, vigilance, and spirit of cooperation that have prevailed for over 100 years will once again be felt inside and outside the competition arenas. That no one will be prevented from feeling the power of the presence of God.
Monitor founder, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" that material conditions simply cannot "overrule the might of divine Mind" (page 128). From this it can be deduced that an awareness of the presence of this Mind is the highest form of security the Olympic organizers and participants could have.
This will become increasingly evident as spiritual thinkers around the world join in praying for the smooth passage and success of the Games - as they pray to know that God is never off guard and will be with everyone throughout every event. As in every aspect of life, nothing can diminish God's ability to keep His sons and daughters safe from any form of evil. Prayer is a powerful, quick, and effective source of protection. No one need feel helpless or insecure - not even in the face of rumors of disruption.
Veiled threats, nameless conspirators, evil in any disguise have no authority over the supremacy of God. Jesus acknowledged and yielded to God's control in every circumstance in which he found himself, and he consistently achieved spiritual dominion. It can be the same for all participants in the upcoming Games.
At the individual level, athletes and spectators who let prayer govern their lives will experience the Apostle Paul's assurance that those who strive with God "for the mastery" will be "temperate" in all things (I Cor. 9:25). Supported by God's love - which is universally given without regard for race, nationality, or Olympic classification - they will view others with consideration and respect. Athletes will find that even in the midst of intense rivalry, they can compete fairly. They will be less tempted to use performance-enhancing drugs, and less driven toward celebrity status.
The freedom this kind of thinking brings can awaken in everyone a fresh appreciation of Coubertin's goal - to create a truce in the affairs of nations in the form of a regular festival of the "springtime" of humankind. He believed that participation in the Games was more important than victory.
Coubertin also saw the Games as being more than an ambitious two-week sports competition. He called for the organizers to glorify beauty by including "the philosophical arts." Hence the spectacle of the opening ceremony, and the arts and education festivals that are held alongside the main sports events. The rich diversity of God's gifts flourishes in these events as well.
The 2004 Summer Games promise to be as valuable as any other in uniting people of all ages and nations in a commitment to give of their best, not only in competition, but toward the healing of nations.