They say sport is a microcosm of life.
As a preacher I think this maxim also applies to the spiritual life.
At the end of an interview with Rogers Communications a couple of weeks ago, regarding a sermon I’d preached on the glory of the Toronto Blue Jays, my interviewer asked what the game meant to me personally.
I had to pause for a few seconds and think.
Then I said that it’s all about those magical moments when I’m alone on my couch, in my basement, watching a game, and I experience something otherworldly.
Edwin Encarnacion stepping to the plate with the game (or the series) in his hands; eyeing the opposition pitcher, shifting his weight from left to right, slowly twirling his bat as he prepares to lock into his batter’s stance. As he is doing all of this I realize that my body is mimicking his, shifting my weight from left to right, twirling an imaginary bat, bracing for the incoming pitch.
And then, in that split second between the ball leaving the pitcher’s hand and Encarnacion (hopefully) making contact, I find myself taking an imaginary swing.
As I hear the crack of the bat, Encarnacion pouring all of that athletic energy, hand-eye coordination and muscle memory into that power-filled moment, swinging at just the right time, in just the right way, it feels as though I’m making contact!
And as that ball flies off the bat, on what appears to be a perfect home run trajectory, I experience what feels like glory; a moment of flow where time stands still.
I get a sense that this is what I’m made for.
In that time and eternal moment, it feels as though I’m actually at the Rogers Centre with those 50,000 other fans, that we’re all together, as a nation, having this ecstatic, dramatic, potentially euphoric, otherworldly, shared experience.
When I’m there I feel like I’m a part of something big, something transcendent.
As that ball continues its upward course over left field, I find I can’t hold it in anymore; my desire for glory, my longing for this hard fought game to be won, for the end to come and for the celebration to begin.
And it all feels so human, so real, like what I’m meant for, like what we’re all meant for – a vicarious communal experience of victory. This mass of humanity, from every tongue and tribe, together focused on one thing; a baseball team fully being itself, mastering this amazing game, teaching us about life and what it means to be alive.
Baseball is a game that seems to have a place for every size and shape of player. It’s played on a diamond that seems to have perfect dimensions, designed to maximize tight plays, close calls and a myriad number of outcomes, a game where none of the players can make it on their own, even at the sport’s highest level.
It’s a game where the glory of the human body is celebrated every time Kevin Pillar makes a super human catch, and Russell Martin throws a laser to second base and picks off the runner, or Marcus Stroman, once again, paints the corner of the plate.
As a theologian, I believe that human beings are made for experiences like these, because they point to, and are foretastes of, an even greater existential reality; that there really might be one thing that can bring all of humanity together in glory.
As I watch Bautista’s very well-hit ball begin its final decent into the left field stands, and I’m on my feet cheering with millions of others, my deepest hopes and dreams feel like they’re becoming reality. If only for a moment, I feel as though I’m fully alive.
Alongside a country full of fans, fully alive. It’s a moment where we can’t do anything but scream and hug our friends and loved ones and anyone who’s nearby.
And together, for a just moment, it feels like heaven on earth.