The following blog is a discussion about the civil religion of baseball. The spark for these writings is the book “The Faith of 50 Million”.
In the summer of 2015 Jeff and I finally made our pilgrimage to Fenway Park in Boston. Jeff has been a Red Sox fan since he can remember, but this was his first trip to see his team in person. He was only a little excited to be sitting in the oldest stadium in America!
The two of us may be creating a new form of liturgy in this shared baseball pilgrimage. Remember, the slow train from St. Louis to Chicago in our last episode? Well, the prelude to our worship experience in Boston began with a slow train ride. On this day the game began when we stepped onto the “T” during the hottest day of the summer. Due to the heat the trains where not allowed to exceed a speed of ten miles an hour. Mothers pushing baby carriages were moving faster than we were. Boston’s rush hour congestion appeared to be moving faster than our train. To say this was a slow ride would be a drastic understatement. Jeff and I plan to skip the train on the next pilgrimage!
Stepping out of the train on Yawkey Way was like stepping into a new adventure. The path to the cathedral was lined with the numbers of Red Sox hall of fame inductees, or saints, of the religion. The excitement of the liturgy grabbed us and lifted us above the moment. Devotees were eating and drinking at the restaurants, looking through the souvenir and memorabilia shops, mingling along the crowded street and absorbing the atmosphere surrounding the cathedral. Other folks were trying to sell or purchase tickets and vendors were hawking programs. (A photo from a time long ago behind the Green Monster.) All this activity outside the park is part of the liturgy of baseball. In her book, “Wait Till Next Year” Doris Kearns Goodwin describes her attachment to the liturgy of baseball. Growing up a loyal acolyte of the Brooklyn Dodgers she swore off the religion when her team moved to Los Angeles leaving her bereft and disillusioned and determined never to set foot in another baseball cathedral. She shares her reawakening with these words. “For years I had managed to stay away. I had formed the firmest of resolutions. I had given myself irrefutable reasons, expressed the most passionate of rejections. But I could not get away. Addiction or obsession, love or need, I was born a baseball fan and a baseball fan I was fated to remain.” What Doris was experiencing was tugging of the liturgy. Something was missing and she recognized the importance the liturgy played in her life. In that moment of revelation she returned to her religion being reborn a Red Sox disciple.
Jeff and I travel together to the different baseball cathedrals because we enjoy the liturgy that makes baseball what it is. We also look forward to sharing in the adaptations we discover in the liturgy practiced in each cathedral.
Here we were in Fenway Park with the Green Monster and obstructed views the smell of popcorn and the sounds of a full stadium. All the usual baseball liturgy was on display. But, I want to share something that belongs to the Red Sox liturgy alone.
Most baseball fans know about Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ being sung at Fenway in the middle of the eighth inning. If you have seen a game on TV you know about this Boston only liturgy. But, until you are actually in the stadium you cannot appreciate the spiritual connection with the rest of the fans that happens during the song. When the entire stadium sang along and after singing the words “Sweet Caroline…” in unison chanted to the music, “Oh, Oh,Oh,” a thrill went through my body. Then after singing, “good times never seem so good” everyone shouted in rhythm, “so good, so good, so good” I was feeling good. In that moment during the singing we were all one person and the feeling was fantastic. That is what liturgy is meant to do. Liturgy is meant as a vehicle to move us toward something more than our self. The church too often doesn’t get what baseball understands. Liturgy is not the object of our worship. Liturgy is the vehicle to the object of our worship. In the Fens of Boston on this night the Red Sox lost to the Blue Jays and Big Pappy did not hit his 500th home run. But, we had a religious experience riding the liturgy that pulled us away from our self and into a communal spiritual moment.
Faith, religion, spirituality, is all about something more than what we are. Liturgy is the vehicle that helps us discover that which is so much more.
See you next time.