I am not much of a sports fan. And although basketball - and to a slightly lesser extent, football - played a role in my youth, I have always been more of an "arts & humanities" lover than a sports fan. As a kid, I would almost always prefer to play than to watch a sport. In school, kickball was the most popular game, and I was pretty good at it! My father played basketball, and I think my brother inherited most of his athletic interests. Still, I can enjoy a good game when the mood strikes.
This fall will mark ten years in Baltimore for me. To this point, I haven't paid much attention to our sports teams. Of course, I know that our baseball team is the Orioles, our football team is the Ravens - I even know that we have a soccer team called the Blast. I recognize some of the names when I hear them: Tejada. Rice. Markakis. Lewis. I have been to a few O's games, but never to any other professional sporting event since moving to Maryland. I wouldn't know any players by face, except for Joe Flacco and Brendon Ayanbadejo, the latter primarily due to his outspoken stance in favor of marriage equality rather than his athleticism.
And yet, I live in Baltimore and so I root (if at all) for our teams. Especially when visiting my partner's family in rural western Pennsylvania, outside of Pittsburgh. Especially when the Ravens are up against the Steelers. Especially then!
Now, there is little to no chance that I am going to morph into a sports nut overnight. But when I heard that the Ravens defeated the New England Patriots and were heading to the Super Bowl, well, that felt good. All of Baltimore (and even some Redskins fans down the road in DC) felt good, excited, hopeful. And boy is it nice to see the city decked out in purple - my favorite color! Some folks have insinuated that people like me are fair-weather fans, and charges of "jumping on the bandwagon" have been leveled, to which I respond no, I am not a fair-weather fan. Although the joy of a game is indeed easier to perceive on a bright and sunny day, I generally just don't care much about professional sports.
The reason most often cited in Unitarian Universalist circles for belonging to a religious community is the satisfaction of the desire for just that - community. As spiritual beings, we yearn for the intimacy of belonging - of being known and valued, of knowing and valuing others, of knowing that we are really real and that we actually do matter. "Roots hold me close" go the words of Carolyn McDade's Spirit of Life, arguably the best known piece of music sung (frequently) in our congregations. There is a safety and security in being rooted to a community of ultimacy, where we explore together what it means to exist. But beyond all that, it actually feels good to belong, to not be alone, to know one's tribe.
Watching yesterday's Super Bowl match between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers was a religious experience. No, I don't believe that there was any divine intervention and that God favored one team over the other. However, the palpable excitement - and even the tension and anxiety - served to bring an entire city together, if only for a few hours' time. After a decade in Maryland, I only recently stopped hemming and hawing when someone asked me if I was "from" Baltimore, preferring instead to tell folks I am "from" the NYC Metro Area but "live in" Baltimore.
Yes, indeed, there is something basic in human nature that yearns for that intense tribal experience - that visceral high and rush of adrenaline only brought about by the elation of a team coming through together to victory, whatever its pursuit.
Unitarian Universalists can be so intently focused on the spiritual advancement of the individual, notwithstanding our social justice bent that focuses on the betterment of society at large. What would our congregations look like if, even some of the time, we allowed ourselves to experience the wild wanton passion - the ecstatic joy - of collective worship, in a way that taps into our root-chakra primal selves? What would that be like? How might we do that? I have heard stories of summer institutes and retreats that do this for people. The closest I've come is General Assembly...which I guess is a Super Bowl of sorts in this faith tradition.
Would it make the experience less extraordinary if we had a Super Bowl every week? Is the fact that it happens so infrequently part of its allure? Perhaps. But it doesn't hurt to dream of a world where so many people experience so much joy together more often.
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