• lenten journal: opening day

    by  • April 6, 2012 • Uncategorized • 1 Comment

    Ginger, Rachel, and I got up early to catch a flight from Love Field in Dallas back to Durham. The flight was fine, though the route required of us to stop in Austin and Nashville on the way. And all we did was stop. We never got off the plane. By the time we got to the house, it was around four o’clock and I had time to turn on the Opening Day game between the Red Sox and the Detroit Tigers. I started watching in the top of the ninth as the Sox came back from a 2-0 deficit to tie the game and raise my hopes. They went on to lose it in the bottom of the inning. I went on upstairs to change clothes and get ready for our Maundy Thursday service at church.

    The Lenten road to Easter and Opening Day are intertwined rites of spring for baseball fans. Some years ago when I was serving as Associate Pastor of First Congregational Church of Hanover, Massachusetts we were beginning our morning worship on a Sunday that happened to mark the Red Sox opener when one of the men stood up with the hymnal open and said, “Here are the words we need for today” –

    time like an ever rolling stream
    bears all its sons away
    they fly forgotten as a dream
    dies at the opening day

    As one who finds deep meaning in the ritual of Communion as well as the game of baseball, I was grateful to also find a poem (poetry being the third member of my personal trinity, I suppose) that resonated.

    Baseball
    by Gail Mazur

    (for John Limon)

    The game of baseball is not a metaphor
    and I know it’s not really life.
    The chalky green diamond, the lovely
    dusty brown lanes I see from airplanes
    multiplying around the cities
    are only neat playing fields.
    Their structure is not the frame
    of history carved out of forest,
    that is not what I see on my ascent.

    And down in the stadium,
    the veteran catcher guiding the young
    pitcher through the innings, the line
    of concentration between them,
    that delicate filament is not
    like the way you are helping me,
    only it reminds me when I strain
    for analogies, the way a rookie strains
    for perfection, and the veteran,
    in his wisdom, seems to promise it,
    it glows from his upheld glove,

    and the man in front of me
    in the grandstand, drinking banana
    daiquiris from a thermos,
    continuing through a whole dinner
    to the aromatic cigar even as our team
    is shut out, nearly hitless, he is
    not like the farmer that Auden speaks
    of in Breughel’s Icarus,
    or the four inevitable woman-hating
    drunkards, yelling, hugging
    each other and moving up and down
    continuously for more beer

    and the young wife trying to understand
    what a full count could be
    to please her husband happy in
    his old dreams, or the little boy
    in the Yankees cap already nodding
    off to sleep against his father,
    program and popcorn memories
    sliding into the future,
    and the old woman from Lincoln, Maine,
    screaming at the Yankee slugger
    with wounded knees to break his leg

    this is not a microcosm,
    not even a slice of life

    and the terrible slumps,
    when the greatest hitter mysteriously
    goes hitless for weeks, or
    the pitcher’s stuff is all junk
    who threw like a magician all last month,
    or the days when our guys look
    like Sennett cops, slipping, bumping
    each other, then suddenly, the play
    that wasn’t humanly possible, the Kid
    we know isn’t ready for the big leagues,
    leaps into the air to catch a ball
    that should have gone downtown,
    and coming off the field is hugged
    and bottom-slapped by the sudden
    sorcerers, the winning team

    the question of what makes a man
    slump when his form, his eye,
    his power aren’t to blame, this isn’t
    like the bad luck that hounds us,
    and his frustration in the games
    not like our deep rage
    for disappointing ourselves

    the ball park is an artifact,
    manicured, safe, “scene in an Easter egg”,
    and the order of the ball game,
    the firm structure with the mystery
    of accidents always contained,
    not the wild field we wander in,
    where I’m trying to recite the rules,
    to repeat the statistics of the game,
    and the wind keeps carrying my words away

    One thing can be said of both baseball and faith: if you make an error you can still come home.

    Play ball. Amen.

    Peace,
    Milton

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    One Response to lenten journal: opening day

    1. Anonymous
      April 6, 2012 at 5:03 am

      wow. great work, milton – natch.

      poetry as the third part of the trinity, eh? nice.

      -mitch

      ps lets chat sometime soon, maybe the night of easter? or easter monday, perhaps?

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