World Series spiritual recap: Did you watch the faces?

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Over the years, many of our readers—and some of our contributing writers—tell us that America’s love affair with baseball is downright spiritual. In fact, author Rodney Curtis wrote a book on that theme: Hope’s Diamond, which was reviewed by another of our authors, Benjamin Pratt. Rodney and Benjamin are our resident shamans of the sport. So, as the Cubs won the series for the first time in more than a century, we invited Ben to do a spiritual recap. Here it is …

By BENJAMIN PRATT

world-series-fans-1Did you watch the faces?

One minute somber; the next radiating joy and excitement. Hands cupped, spired upward over mouth and nose, eyes fixed in reverent gaze, lips mouthing hope. Faith is reflected in eyes and faces that light up with joy—and then contrast with a somber, disgruntled doubtful stare. We might have seen such expressions at a campaign rally—or perhaps at a religious revival. Yet, there they were: Expressions of life’s highs and lows amidst the tangled web of Cubs’ and Indians’ fans at the World Series ball parks.

To watch the passion, the shift from faith to doubt, the formation of community, the miracles, the blessings and curses of these games is to experience the ineffable. You cannot define the ineffable, but you can experience it and know it profoundly. It is what we know when we are in awe of nature or beauty, or when we feel love for a child or mate or God.

Baseball parks are sacred places to some. Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, is sometimes called the “Cathedral of Baseball.” It is treated like a shrine by some fans who have spread the cremains of loved ones there. Chicago funeral director, Brooke Benjamin, was quoted in the Chicago Sunday Times saying, “There are pounds and pounds of cremated remains at Wrigley.” One man even confessed to Benjamin that he had left a bit of his Dad at the ballpark. Sacred Ground!

Life is filled with blessings, curses, religion and baseball. Gay Talese put it aptly: “Like religion, the game of baseball is founded on aspirations rarely met. It generates far more failure than fulfillment.” Face it, if you get a hit one out of three times at bat you will be a league leader.

I have found no book that deals as brilliantly with the relationship of baseball and the religious experience as Baseball As A Road To God, by John Sexton, president of New York University, devout Roman Catholic—and baseball fan. In the formation of this book, Sexton was supported by Thomas Oliphant and Peter Schwartz; the foreword was written by another devoted baseball fan, Doris Kearns Goodwin. Sexton says, “If we open ourselves to the rhythms and intricacies of the game, if we sharpen our noticing capacity, if we allow the timelessness and intensity of the game’s most magnificent moments to shine through, the resulting heightened sensitivity might give us a sense of the ineffable, the transcendent.”

What more needs be said, except, “Wait’ll Next Year!”

Benjamin Pratt is a frequent contributor to ReadTheSpirit magazine and the author of several books, including Short Stuff from a Tall Guy.

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