Thursday, April 05, 2012

lenten journal: opening day

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.
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.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

wow. great work, milton - natch.

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


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