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March 08, 2008


Paul Maurice Martin

I think the very best moments in sports really are spiritually inspiring, although this aspect of sports pretty much goes unnoticed and unmentioned.



Read an interesting article by Hauerwas lately that discusses the moral formation of individuals and communities. Although he talks more about ideas of craft and apprenticeship, it's made me think again about the significance of sport in society. For him, it's all about being teachable:

"It is interesting in this respect to contrast this notion with modern democratic presuppositions. For as I noted above, the accounts of morality sponsored by democracy want to deny the necessity of a master. It is assumed that we each in and of ourselves have all we need to be moral. No master is necessary for us to become moral, for being moral is a condition that does not require initiation or training. That is why I often suggest that the most determinative moral formation most people have in our society is when they learn to play baseball, basketball, quilt, cook or learn to lay bricks. For such sports and crafts remain morally antidemocratic insofar as they require acknowledgment of authority based on a history of accomplishment."



Kester, you never cease to amaze me. Never, in a million years would I have made any connection between sports and spirituality. I applaud your bravado in attempting to tie the two together. Being a more arts oriented person, I don't personally make the connection but I think there must be some truth to it in the spirit of that famous quote from Chariots of Fire "When I run, I feel God's pleasure." My theology begins to boil down to the fact that God created us for relationship with Him. Period. End of sentence. So, the next step in that line of logic is that we are each created with inherent gifts and talents and it gives God deep pleasure when we discover and engage those things. Whether that be sports, waiting tables, writing, plumbing, investment banking, etc. you get the picture.


there is some interesting stuff on embodiment (confronting the problem of embodiment - julie cheville - international journal of qualitative studies in education vol 18 jan/feb 2005 amongst others)- that looks at 'synergy' of teamwork (in this case in basketball), that has a lot of resonance with all the research into children and spirituality - what david hay and rebecca nye call 'relational consciousness' and what others have called 'reflexive consciousness' - also i guess Mihály Csíkszentmihályi looking at the concept of 'flow' is akin to the 'when i run i feel God's pleasure' kind of stuff - also the whole free running/Parkour thing has a philosophy which is very spiritual - personally i think there is a very strong connection between the practice of collaborative theology and playing together (in sports or arts or worship or any other context really)- mostly because i think that is how God as community, three in one, unity in diversity, is encountered when we gather together and share experience


is it also something to do with the general reluctance to believe that our bodies really are involved in this whole religion/faith deal? It seems to be easier to believe that God is in cool arty worship ideas, than that God is there when you feel the great rush of pleasure when you achieve something with your body. (I love that scene in CHariots of Fire when Liddell says, "when I run, I feel his pleasure..." )


I think you're spot on here Maggi... I wonder if it could be pushed a little further too. Is it going too far to say that the artistic ideal, coming out of the leisure society of the wealthier classes has had a theme of Cartesian mind/body dualism: words and ideas will save us from our fallen bodies (bodies which, if fallen, can be treated poorly and subjected to wild excesses)? If so then has theology, as part of the 'logos' arts, neglected the body too?

Most sports have always be caricatured as primitive pursuits, the grunting and sweating denigrated by the fairer artists as part of our old hunter-gatherer nature that needs leaving behind for more ethereal matters.

Yet Jesus' was a very physical gospel. We love the 'words of Jesus in red', but forget the physical demands of the walking, the heat, the cold. I'm currently reading Waterlog - 'a swimmer's journey through Britian' - and there's no doubting the connection between the physical exercise and the very spiritual meditations on British life.


Kester, I've been thinking about this for a while so you are not alone. Doing the examen, I've found that often my consolation is to do with running, swimming or cycling, which can definitely be spiritual activities for me. I agree, Maggi, that generally we don't have much of an understanding of how our bodies are connected to our faith, and yet how can we separate out body, mind and spirit? What happens to one, affects the others and there's loads more work to be done here. I'd love to hear more about a theology/spirituality of sport. Christians have often used it as a means to an end, and I'm thinking about Christians in Sport here who seem to justify their involvement in sport by making it a tool for evangelism, or church football teams who join a local league and 'witness' by praying together before the match. Then how does the competitiveness of sport fit with kingdom theology that says the first shall be last and the last first?


steve butler just did his MTh studies on embodiment and worship (published as the touching place - whole body participation in the worshippping community) - he talks a lot about the senses and the body in general as well as ritual and liturgy and 're-membering the body' in worship - there are some really good examples of how traditional structures have tried to negate, even as you say, reviled the physical body - he makes a good theological arguement for engagement and embodiment which could be applied to any context - as for Jesus, i don't know about sport in those days, but he was a carpenter - i think he had muscles !!

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