I recently attended a high school girls’ volleyball tournament. My granddaughter Ruth was playing, and the stands were filled with family and friends watching our favorite teens. We watched as they served, jumped, and spiked, as they carefully set the ball for another to hit or dove to the floor for a save. All that energy, strength and skill exploded on the courts, and all those ponytails bounced wildly. Outside the gym, the corridors teemed with girls hanging out together, checking their phones and snacking while waiting their turn to play.
It seemed like a strange place for spiritual lessons! But spiritual truths need to surface in a variety of ways in our lives so we can discover them anew and relearn them. I expected to learn about volleyball at the tournament. I didn’t expect a refresher course in spiritual wisdom as well. It was there, however, if I paid attention.
What did I notice that day at the tournament? The first lesson was I’m not alone; it doesn’t all depend on me. These girls had learned to join together, using their individual skills on a team for a common purpose. They depended on each other. Sometimes I feel alone, as if I’m the only person who cares about an issue, but somewhere there are others who are equally concerned. We can form a team. Together, we are stronger, whether we want to win a volleyball game, battle an injustice, or worship in a faith community. Sharing a purpose and a passion brings hope. And when I falter, another will pick up the ball – and perhaps pick me up, too!
A second lesson from the volleyball day: The other side is not an enemy. At a volleyball tournament, I learned, one never boos the opponents. One only cheers for your team with a supportive “Great hit!” or an encouraging “Good set!” Can I remember to have that kind of respect in dealing with my opponents, persons whose purposes and goals are fundamentally different from mine?
At the tournament, teams lined up and walked by their opponents, touching hands with them before the game. The ritual emphasized their shared reality. “We are all teenage girls who love this game. And we’re going to try hard to win.” It helped me remember the reality I share with those on “the other side.” We are all humans who want the best for those we love, even when we heartily disagree on what that is and how to obtain it. If I remember that, I can strongly oppose the goals of “the other side,” yet act with respect.
The third spiritual lesson is one I always need to relearn: It’s all about paying attention. Volleyball is a fast moving game, requiring players to be totally alert in their own positions and vigilant about everyone else’s movements. These girls were poised to move quickly in any direction at any moment. They were fully awake and attentive.
Fortunately daily life isn’t a super fast volleyball game, but we are called to pay attention and be awake to the world. When we experience joy or pain, when we notice miracles around us, we feel more awake. When we pay attention to subtle nudges from God that can guide our living, we are more aware of God’s presence. Sometimes I drift along, less than half awake, and miss most of what is stirring within me and around me. Perhaps I’m weary or bored; perhaps I’m late and rushing to reach my office before my client arrives. I’m not aware of the present moment. I’m not paying attention to Here and Now.
Yesterday my husband and I hiked through a nearby woodland and looked for early spring wildflowers. I paused frequently in delight at their shy, delicate beauty. There were glowing white bloodroot, tiny humorous Dutchmans- breeches, the small spring beauty, and the yellow bowed cap of the trout lily. Often appearing singly or in a small clump, they were almost hidden among last year’s brown leaves. In searching for these subtle treasures, I was more fully alive. I was awake to the sacred present moment.
Spiritual truths show up all the time, whether we notice them or not. I’m glad I noticed the volleyball truths. I need to remember them: I’m not alone; it doesn’t all depend on me. The other side is not an enemy. It’s all about paying attention.
May we all be awake to the Spirit’s wisdom, however it shows up. May it guide our lives and our decisions.
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