My eye caught an article in the paper a number of months ago regarding the optimum date (or best date) in which Olympic gold medalists or great sportsmen and women have be born, it turns out the date is March 23rd. I almost fell off my seat, the paper almost fell out of my hands, because that is the same date that I was born. It turns out the Mo Farrah, Steve Redgrave, Chris Hoye, Jason Kenny, Joe Cazaghe, Mike Atherton and Roger Bannister, Bertie Auld (and others) were all born on this same day. In this list of great sporting heroes born on 23rd March, there are those who have collected over 80 Olympic & Commonwealth medals, there have been great boxers and football players and runners It got me to thinking my path in life might also have been so different, if only I had applied myself better, things could have been so different. Unfortunately as it turns out I think that I would be a disappointment to these illustrious sports men and women, I have not won a single medal (for anything), I am not built for speed, I am not meant for the boxing ring (a feather could knock me down), anyone who saw me in my football days would at best have said of me that I was a “trier”. I can only presume I am a genetic mutation, a throw-back, whereas all of these refined and accomplished individuals have gone on to do great things, I can only presume that I am the runt of the litter.
In many ways Lent is the time of the spiritual athlete. You have to be a long distance runner to keep going, to keep with it, to see things through to the end. You have to be the boxer to take the punches. You have to be the footballer to score the goal. It’s a spiritual exercise in which strength, staying power, commitment matter, seeing things through to the end matters too. It resembles a training programme The aim is to get stronger, to remain focused and to achieve the goal.
I suspect really like physical athletes it doesn’t in the end of the day really matter what date you were born - what really matters is your commitment and staying power to achieve the aim of spiritual growth, to get stronger.
Athletes like to look to other athletes who achieved their end to inspire them. In Lent we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, it is him that we would like to be like most. It’s his mind and purpose that we would most like to imitate. He is always levels beyond us, but there is always the desire to share in his victory, we always have the wish to stand in his shadow, this is the thing that drives us on. He is the one who is tempted by the devil to take his eye off the ball, to give up and break his fast by turning the stones into loaves and eating them, by becoming a potentate in the world – he resists these temptations and doesn’t turn away, he is too strong for his adversary.
Lent can also show up the sluggish and the non triers. The ones who produce the notes from their mothers “please excuse Joey because he has a sore toe”. These are the people who don’t want to do anything and who never do anything and who don’t see the point of doing anything, the spiritual couch potatoes.
What awakens people to want to be better? What awakens people to leave the little that they have to have to be something better, to be stronger, fitter, to want something more from their faith? They can only want it if they are inspired to want more, to wish to be better, to attain something greater, to make something of the gifts that they already have.
Where does that inspiration come from? What wakens that inspiration? What makes us what to attain greater depths and new heights? It is a spiritual awaking which Lent can creates in us. It might come from unhappiness that we have grown spiritually fat, lazy, smug, unmotivated – it can make us realise that we are really unhappy with that spiritual sloth. It may come from a desire that there must be something more in life than the little we have now, there must be more out there. It may come from looking at the spiritually well and the spiritually strong that we realise want the same. Who knows where the inspiration comes from, but it just needs the spark and it can become a flame.
What do you hope from Lent…nothing, little or great things. Do you dream to be like the great saints, attaining great great heights or are you just happy with the little you have, holding onto that lest you lose even that. Do you dream of being a gold medalist in the race, do you dream of being born in 23rd March and like those great sports people going onto great things?