I recently attended a workshop on spiritual formation. One of the practices we were encouraged to undertake was to go on a "pilgrimage" every 7 to 10 years. That is, to take a trip to a sacred place.
As I thought about where that sacred place might be for me, it occurred to me that I might already have been on a pilgrimage--of sorts.
In the summer of 1997 I led a youth group on a mission trip to Chicago. On our day off, we went to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs play the SanFrancisco Giants. There were several "holy moments" when the baseball part of my soul got to catch up with the things I had only seen on televison.
It was a day game, a grand tradition at Wrigley. There really was ivy growing on the outfield walls. Sammy Sosa made his game opening lap of right filed, waving at all the "Bleacher Bums". We had semi-obstructed view seats. The wind was blowing out. JT Snow hit a home run to Right that got thrown back. Sammy Sosa hit a home run for the Cubs (so did Brian McRae). Ryne Sandberg played second base. Mark Grace played first. The Cubs won 6-3 and they raised the "W" banner beside the scoreboard.
The "most spiritual" moment, of course, came just moments after Darryl Hamilton struck out swinging to end the top of the 7th. I grabbed Trisha by the hand and said, "C'mon, let's go!" She didn't understand want was going on. "You need to see this," I explained as I led her down the first base side of the stadium toward right field. Our seats were semi-obstructed related to the view of the field, completely obstructed when it came to seeing the press box. I was almost running and dragging my wife along. I kept checking over my left shoulder to see if we could see. About the time we got "clear", I turned my wife back toward home plate where we both got to see Harry Carey pop out of the broadcast booth to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."
That was an experience that will stay with me for a long time. I could try to do some theological reflection on all of those expereinces that day, but I will be content to preserve some of those those images for moments when my soul (the baseball part or even all of it) might need them. Of course, if your soul has need, come by and I'll tell you the stories in person.
Yesterday, when I was listening to the Braves game, Chipper Jones hit a home run in the bottom of the first. The thought hit me . . . At that moment in Turner Field, there were many people who were there for the first time taking in sights and sounds and experiences that they might have only previously seen on TV. There were kids there wearing #10 jerseys and t-shirts who got to see their favorite player hit a home run. Surely they also deserve some kind of bonus if they stayed for all 17 innings. Who knows what their own pilgrimages might have accomplished for their souls?