Our bodies and our souls are deeply connected. The physical/spiritual divide is really a theological position made up by folks who thought that our bodies were bad or sinful, but that we had a better part, called soul, buried within us. But ask anyone about the spiritual challenges of enduring great pain, or about the physical warmth that is often experienced in moments of deep spiritual connection, and you will see that we are not so divided.
In fact, sports and spirituality are more connected than we often appreciate. And the Super Bowl is a great example.
It’s really national holy day that is about much more than who will be declared the best team in professional football. Like any sacred event, it brings people together to focus on a particular performance, which speaks to their hopes and aspirations.
Although not identical, football on Sunday and church on Sunday (or synagogue on Saturday, mosque on Friday, etc.) are more alike than most of us realize. It’s no accident that recreation and re-creation are the same word. When sports and religion are done right, we feel the fullness of our freedom. We really feel that we are renewed or in the words of Exodus which are recited as part of Friday night prayers and again before lunch on Saturday, “re-souled”.
Whether you are playing or watching the sport, you will be reminded of the amazing things our bodies can do, of the incredible capacity that we have as human beings, and how far we can carry ourselves and others if we train hard and work long enough. We can experience that sense of “being in the zone,” what psychologists call “the flow state,” of being where we are suppose to be, doing what we are suppose to do, with the people we want to do it with, and doing it all so well and naturally. If that doesn’t sound like a religious experience, what does?
This Sunday, over 100,000,000 people will create communities and celebrate, just as they do around religious milestones. Small communities committed to a particular team will connect to each other and to an international body supporting that same team, and ultimately, to everyone who loves the game.
And at this moment in particular, any opportunity to celebrate is really important, sacred even. And this kind of celebration is especially appropriate because it doesn’t cost anything to gather in front of the TV with friends and let ourselves cheer. It’s so easy to fall into thinking that every day brings new despair. It’s crucial and fun to remind ourselves that we still have it within us to scream for good things.
Whether we cheer for the Steelers or the Cardinals, the story of each team has something to teach us. The former would have/could have/should have moved out of Pittsburgh ages ago – it’s the heart of the rust belt, but they didn’t, they hung in. The Steelers are models of that kind of commitment which can see us through hard times.
The Cardinals however did move from St. Louis to Arizona. But we can learn from them too. They followed the growth curve of America and headed west. Sometimes we do need to relocate, to pull ourselves together and strike out for new opportunites even though that can be very scary.
These two stories are really two stories of America, and we can learn from both of them. Not to mention the importance of using this competition to teach ourselves and each other the difference between being a fan and a fanatic. The former loves his team but enjoys a great game no matter what, the latter really cannot see beyond his own team and cannot appreciate the good found in the other one. The parallel to other groups in our world is clear.
So this Sunday, even if you are not a football fan, gather some friends, get the junk food you most enjoy, and have a little fun. It’s the Sacred Bowl! I mean the Super Bowl.