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Pilgrim, priest and ponderer. European living in North East England. Retired parish priest, theological educator, cathedral precentor and dean.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

How was it for you?

So how was it for you?  Have you had a good Olympics?  Have we? 

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes -
Some have got broken -- and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school.

W. H. Auden in post-Christmas doldrums.  I wonder whether the week after the Olympics will be a bit like that: somewhat forlorn and empty, holidays nearly over, the news reverting to its normal catalogue of woe, nights drawing in, the sense of clicking back into ordinary time once more. 

I think the Christmas analogy is worth pursuing.  Every Christmas we hope (and if we are religious we pray) that somehow our celebrations may make a difference to the world, with ‘peace on earth’ not just a dream but maybe – just maybe – coming true.  Well, the test of a ‘good’ Christmas is whether it has at least made a difference to us: our attitudes, our relationships, our resolve to live better lives and bring what wholesomeness and redemption we can into the lives of others.

We can be proud that in Britain we’ve had a very good Olympics. Maybe we’ve surprised ourselves, seen a side to this nation that we hadn’t quite glimpsed before.  Of course, it’s been exciting to win medals and come out near the top of the league table: excellence is always something to celebrate and we congratulate athletes who have put heart and soul into the Games. 

But what has made these Games so good has been the spirit of them, the warmth of the welcome people from all over the world have experienced in our country, the knowledge that we have brought people together from every corner of the planet and had a thoroughly good time. I want to use the theological language of ‘re-creation’ and ‘joy’ to talk about it: somehow, nothing less than this does justice to the past 17 days. We have had seen world’s peoples being together in peace and harmony. You could say that it is a glimpse of the Old Testament prophet’s vision that swords would one day be turned into ploughshares and spears into pruning-hooks.  You could even say that it has hinted at the kingdom of God. 

We have heard a lot about ‘legacy’ in recent days. But legacy should mean much more than the Games leaving behind them splendid sporting facilities, urban regeneration and new housing, important though these are. The best legacy would be a ‘better, kínder, more Christlike kind of world’ as Provost Howard said after the bombing of Coventry in 1940.  And when we look back to this golden summer of the London Olympics, we must not let go of the memory of people of every race, background, creed and political conviction competing together for the sheer love of sport. This huge common endeavour of recreational play symbolises what reconciliation and friendship should mean.  And a symbol is not an empty gesture at an impossible vision.  What we have experienced has been real.  The task is to keep the memory alive, allow its life-giving anamnesis to flow into every corner of the life of our broken, divided planet.   

Towards the end of his poem, Auden speaks about temptation and evil in an allusion to the Lord’s Prayer.  He says: 

                        They will come, all right, don't worry; probably in a form
                        That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
                         More dreadful than we can imagine. 

No doubt we shall have to face ordeals enough in the months that lie ahead.  The economic crisis afflicting Europe, conflict in Syria and Afghanistan, the threats of climate change and all the cruelties human beings go on inflicting on one another: it is all still there.  But I believe that celebration makes a difference to how we respond to them.  It makes us care more because we glimpse a bigger vision of how the world could be, and how we ourselves could be.  Every time we come together at the Christian eucharist we play-act a world that is different, transformed, healed.  If we can hold the Olympics in our minds as a cherished piece of God-given play-acting, who knows what difference it could make? It really could 'inspire a generation'.  It really must.

And now we have the Paralympics to look forward to....

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