Sunday, October 10, 2010

Prayer in Sports

For this post I want to take a bit of a detour into the world of athletics, perhaps in an attempt to meld two areas of interest that are equally important to me.

For me, prayer in sports continues to be somewhat of an enigma, it goes without discussion, as a communal activity it is rarely witnessed, but we are privy to brief peeks at it through the actions of the (usually) men who are competing at the highest level in their respective sports. Common "peeks" include a football player dropping to one knee following a touchdown reception, a baseball player crossing himself before at at-bat, or even during an at-bat, pitchers taking a knee behind the mound before taking to the mound. Players in other sports may point heavenward as an acknowledgment of some higher power, or deceased relative who provided significant inspiration. One comparison which I will allow you to evaluate, is the waving of the lulav on Sukkot as a way of recognizing God's presence and athletes pointing heavenward.

However, group prayer, a common Jewish practice, does appear to have a unique place in sports. For example, when watching films that recap the great seasons of a given team, sometimes footage of the team kneeling in prayer before the ultimate game of a season finds its way to the surface. Similarly, following a football game, a number of players often gather at midfield, while one, presumably more senior player, delivers a benediction. Some teams even employ chaplains who regularly visit with the players.

So what is it about athletics that fosters a sense of God? It could be the "no atheists in foxholes" mentality. In other words, those about embark upon, or those who have concluded a trying experience rely upon God. I don't mean to suggest that we need to hit the court, field, or ice in order to have meaningful prayer.

My whole point of taking you through this journey was to provide an opportunity to think about what it means to approach God in times of trial and tribulation as well as in times of plenty. Perhaps we can learn something from our athletic colleagues while still realizing that God is available to us even when we are most satisfied. The mode in which we approach God may differ depending on the circumstances, but that's for another discussion.

1 comment:

Spirit Wolf said...

I really liked your prayer in sports post. I grew up playing soccer, and many of my teams said a little prayer together (usually the Lord's prayer, along with some spontaneous personal comments) before the game and afterwards. The points you made were good, as sports are dangerous and we do pray to G-d to protect us (and the other team) and help us have a good game and play respectfully and that no one be injured (nice to note that in my experience, no one asked G-d to help us win).

But the most striking thing, for me, is that we pray to G-d before, during (at times), and after games no matter what. If we win, lose, tie, or have a delayed game due to thunderstorms, no matter. We still thank G-d for the chance to play and be together and recognize G-d's authority and power. It's easy to thank G-d when you win and the whole world is filled with light, it's much harder when you lose in a close match and your heads are down. But thanking G-d anyway teaches us to put our heads back up and realize that human worth and the chance to play and live a little is so much more important than any game will ever be. Even if we don't exactly see that at the time :P

I think Jewish prayer teaches us this as well, especially if one prays the traditional 3 prayer services every day, no matter how one might be feeling or how life might be going.