Like many of our friends and neighbors, my husband and I will be parked in front of the TV this Sunday watching the Super Bowl of American football. This is odd because neither of us really like watching sports on TV and have little interest in football, but this event-of-all-events warrants our attention simply because it is a way to engage with a wide spectrum of humanity.
At times the op-ed columns on this site and others have bemoaned the mindlessness of spectator sports, the mass hysteria, and distraction from other more useful tasks. Intuition says our interest may be more in the creative advertising that offsets the expense of broadcasting the Super Bowl, but even that has something to do with an engagement with what makes people laugh or think.
This column has included much writing about the need for quiet and prayer that is singularly devoted to the things of the Spirit. So does a mass media event have anything to do with spiritual values?
Mental independence from the world is a key to the progress of the race. Much of the pull to carnal, selfish, and hateful instincts comes from the influence of collective thought patterns. It takes alertness to sort through the images of the media to find the real substance of civilization that warrants our commitment. So why will we be giving up those hours on Sunday?
Because connecting with humanity was as much a core value of Jesus’ teaching and living as his communion in the wilderness with God. His meals with the publicans and sinners were just as important as nurturing his devoted disciples on the hillside. He lived among the people, not on a mountaintop.
It’s one thing to practice spirituality with your Bible on your lap in the quiet of the early morning. It’s another to feel a closeness to Spirit in the middle of the thousands gathered in Grant Park for the Chicago Jazz Festival. Frankly the mental alertness is the same, looking for the goodness of God, watching not to react to the worst, staying alert to defend the goodness that prevails over the baseness. Humanity’s best keeps pointing to the reality of God, everywhere. Ultimately, what we’ll understand is that despite all the disappointment and confusion that can result in thinking about society, man made in the image and likeness of God exists to make God obvious.
One of my favorite memories of going to Wrigley Field here in Chicago was shortly after my husband and I were married and we were moving into our first home together. It wasn’t the easiest of days, and we’d both had to make hard decisions about letting our own stuff go in order to find what would work in the new space. There was nothing we needed more than a way to stop and feel our connection to a universe wider than our boxes and personal belongings.
A friend called to say he had extra tickets to the Cubs game, which was starting in an hour. There was no way we could make it on time, but if he really didn’t have anyone else to use the tickets, we’d get there as soon as we could. After saying goodbye to the movers, we got there at the fifth inning, more than halfway through the game.
I can’t tell you who won or lost that day, but I remember palpably the feeling of refreshment we felt among the folks, feeling free to laugh and groan and enjoy that irresistible sense of community the game gave us. It was so relaxing, we just sat in our seats afterward, smelling the grass being freshly mowed and watching the pigeons pilfer the food in the rows.
Our romance was rekindled, and it was easier to return to our work at home.
Temperance is the Christian virtue that protects us from getting overinvolved in any aspect of human life, including sports. The balance of work, play, and engagement with humanity is not always an easy one. But that balance is echoed in the model that Christ Jesus lived. You can feel support for that model in these words of Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy: “The cement of a higher humanity will unite all interests in the one divinity” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 571).
Divinity may not be the first word associated with the Patriots and Giants, but humanity is why we’ll be watching.
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