Olympic Glimpses of the Divine

Olympic Glimpses of the Divine.
Choral Evensong, Sunday 12 August 2012, Blackburn Cathedral.
“Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus’
(Hebs.12. 1-2.)
It has been an outstanding 16 days for the country – even for those who don’t much
like sport – as we have all basked in the glory of a highly successful Olympic Games
in London.
All the pundits have tried but failed to find something wrong with the event but it has
been stunning for competitors, the onlookers, for the country and for sport in general.
One area of difficulty however has been highlighted by the intrusive cameras of an
otherwise magnificent BBC broadcast and that is the response of the victors when put
under pressure to express their feelings. There is a stammering and a silence and then
somewhere will come the words, ‘awesome’ and ‘indescribable’.
Now in the circumstances – after a huge physical effort, with 80,000 spectators and
either ‘Chariots of Fire’ or ‘The National Anthem’ playing in the background it is
little wonder that so many of our successful athletes burst into tears, including the
seasoned performers like Sir Chris. Hoy.
However, I wonder if there is not something else going on. Beneath all the emotion,
the pressure, the hype, is there some other language trying to emerge? When we are
put under significant emotional or spiritual pressure our language either tumbles into
poetry or dries up. Musicians such as the Amadeus Chamber Choir will know this
moment only too well after taking part in a particularly well-executed anthem, the
result of which is very moving and brings us – singers and audience – close to tears.
That surely is the purpose of Christian Choral Music? These are moments when the
world seems to stand still, when the situation takes on sudden depth and stillness in
spite of the surrounding rumpus. Is this perhaps a moment when we glimpse
something of God’s reality which we cannot properly articulate?
Such moments have exercised our theologians for many years. One such, Ian Ramsay
who later became Bishop of Durham called them “disclosure situations”. They link
what we know, what we can observe and measure, to that which we can only vaguely
comprehend – that which is beyond our comfort zone.
So in the athletics arena, God may be working – a justifieable observation for a God
who is everywhere. And it is not alien territory for God either. We have noticed the
number of crosses and prayers and genuflexions from the competitors. Perhaps the
tears of joy are another way in which a good God gets out and makes himself known.
It is after all consistent with scripture down the ages. We might think of Elijah and
the still small voice which propelled him into a very different and daring action or
Moses, moved to silence at the Burning Bush. In our second lesson today, the author
of the letter to the Hebrews uses the athletics imagery to underline the discipline
necessary in the Christian life. I don’t believe in a God who reserves all the rewards
until last. We all need encouragement along the way and this might just be the
encouragement we, as a fairly godless nation, need. Amen.