Baseball teaches us, or has taught most of us, how to deal with failure. We learn at a very young age that failure is the norm in baseball, and precisely because we have failed, we hold in high regard those who fail less often – those who hit safely in one out of three chances and become star players. I also find it fascinating that baseball, alone in sport, considers errors to be part of the game, part of its rigorous truth.
-Francis T. Vincent, Jr., Commissioner of Baseball
Maybe this is why baseball is so popular among clergy. It’s helpful to recognize that errors are part of the game, on field or off. The idea is central to our faith. St. Paul put it this way: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. For me, it finds expression in the promise made at baptism. We promise that whenever we sin, we will repent and turn to the Lord. It doesn’t say “if ever.” It says “whenever.” Maybe that’s why both Navajo and Persian weavers always include at least one mistake when creating their rugs.
How exactly is that good news? For starters, our tradition holds that there is always a way back. So when my favorite editor finds grammatical errors in this weekly message (which she often does), that’s okay. When a reader writes me about last week’s post, indicating the Paul McCartney didn’t write “Let it be” about the Blessed Virgin, but about his own mother, that’s okay. I can learn from that. It’s about progress, not perfection. We embrace the rigorous truth that we won’t always get it right. And how might that be helpful this Monday morning?
First, maybe we can lighten up and recognize that God is not sitting at the divine laptop, waiting for us to mess up, ready to press the “smite” button (an image stolen from a Gary Larson cartoon). Recent reflections at church on forgiveness highlighted the point that often forgiveness begins with forgiving ourselves, letting the hot air out of the hubris balloon that imagines we can always get it right. (Clergy often gravitate toward those balloons.)
Second, it might help us give each other a break. So if someone lets us down, or does us wrong, or cuts us off in traffic, or wittingly or unwittingly breaks our heart, we can work at forgiveness. It is work. Spiritual work. It is not a matter of denying the hurt, or sanctioning the offense, but admitting that we are all just trying to figure out how to play ball.
Third, it may help us focus on how absolutely dependent we are on grace, on the premise and promise that ultimately we are accepted. That is not because we have it all together or always get it right. It’s certainly not a reflection of our ability to bat a spiritual 1000. We are accepted because of the goodness of God’s creation, of which we are a dearly beloved part. We are accepted because God loves us. That love is at the heart of creation.
I’m working at accepting that. Some days, I do better than others. Maybe I’m batting 300. But we can still swing for the fences. Or as St. Paul put it, as he reflected on his own spiritual journey, which had it’s up and downs: Beloved…this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
So today, play ball.
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