Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Athlete . . . and Prayer . . .

Do you ever think about the role of prayer in the life of an athlete? While watching the 29th Olympiad in Beijing, China, I’ve noticed how some of the athletes appear to take a moment for prayer at the start of an event. Several wear crosses. Others make the sign of the cross. A few take a minute or two for prayer after winning a race. But so far (based on my limited viewing) prayer has not been featured in a report by NBC broadcasters. If you happen to catch such a story, please let me know with a comment or an email.

The Olympic athletes’ years of training, the ups and downs of competition, the struggles with injuries, and their joyful victory celebrations can all inspire a desire to pray, or even to learn how to pray and build a relationship with a loving Heavenly Father who cares about all the events and outcomes we experience as we run our race.

Perhaps the best known verse comparing an athlete’s life with the life of a Christian is “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:25; see also verses 24-27).

While moving from the study of solitude and silence to prayer, Nouwen explains that solitude and silence are for prayer. “The Desert Fathers did not think of solitude as being alone, but as being alone with God. They did not think of silence as not speaking, but as listening to God. Solitude and silence are the context within which prayer is practiced”
(The Way of The Heart, Ballantine Books, 1983, page 53).

One of the Desert Fathers, Macarius the Great, (an Egyptian who lived in the fourth century) says: “The chief task of the athlete [that is the monk] is to enter into his heart,” as quoted by Henri Nouwen citing The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (The Way of The Heart, Ballantine Books, 1983, page 60).

Desert Fathers, monks and nuns, everyday Christians living in the 21st century, we are all athletes. Let’s pray.