The following excerpt is one of my favorites from a wonderful new book called “Why Stay Catholic? Unexpected Answers to a Life-Changing Question” by my long-time mentor and friend, Mike Leach. He also just started a blog, also called “Why Stay Catholic” that offers spiritual wisdom, insights, and entertainment (Mike is very funny). Go check it out!
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In the movie Field of Dreams a tourist asks the hero Ray Kinsella, “Is this heaven?”
“No,” he says. “It’s Iowa.”
Heaven begins on the spot where we are standing. Funny thing, but like Ray I think I first had a sense of God’s presence playing baseball. Let me tell you about it.
I was eight or nine years old. Maybe ten. It doesn’t matter. Because when it happened, time stood still and I was eternal.
In my big-city neighborhood the kids played softball on cross streets where manhole covers served as bases. The fourteen-incher would pop its stitches but you used it until it was a pillow. Even so, you’d better not smack it too far down the middle or it might crack the window of an apartment building. You had to pull the ball to the street on the left or punch it down the street to the right. You began playing after school and didn’t stop until your mother called your name from a wooden porch or the sun sank behind the skyline.
Little guys like me sat on the curb until one of the big guys put us in, usually on the street to the right. I’d often drop the ball, especially hard line drives, and rarely hit one past the pitcher. I wanted to do good (or more accurately, not do bad) and I thought about what the other kids were thinking of me. Then one evening (or more accurately this one sacramental moment) while the sun was painting the apartment windows gold, I stopped wanting, stopped thinking.
I was in right field.The ball popped off the bat like grease from a frying pan and lofted high over my head. All I did was see it and turn and follow its path. I wasn’t thinking about it. Just running, aware of each step, each move of my arms, as if in slow motion, knowing exactly where the ball would come down. At just the right moment, without looking, my fingers reached out and the softball fell onto my hands like a dove. I ran a few more steps, turned, held it up, and smiled!
The big guys cheered.
The moment vanished.
But to this day, sixty years later, I can remember that golden instant when time stood still and I felt one with the ball, the sun, the street, and yes, let’s say it, love.
God is love, an unbelievable oneness that comes to awareness when you least expect it: in the sacrament of the present moment. Baseball first taught me not to worry about the past or plan for the future but simply to pay attention to the ball. I’d need many reminders throughout my life but I began to learn: God envelops us when we least expect it.
I don’t remember what happened after that catch, but I remember other moments of oneness that came suddenly but never lasted more than an inning. Just as quickly as one came, just as quickly would I take pride in it or dwell on it or try to do it again, and it was gone.
God finds us when we forget about ourselves and live in the present. Awareness catches us but the moment falls apart when we try to pin it against the wall of our mind like a butterfly. It comes to us on colorful see-through wings. And as soon as we take credit for it, it vanishes.
But we never forget it.
Its promise keeps us going.
And finds us again when we least expect it.