A few months ago, as the month of February dawned, something about life shifted, just a little bit.
It was hard to describe, this feeling that crept into the house. It was rather like what hits you as you return home from a long trip. What’s old, by your absence, now seems new. In the light of what you saw when you were away, everything looks just a bit different, even though it’s exactly the same.
That late winter disorientation wasn't due to travel, though. We'd hardly left the place at all over the past months, just doing what we always do: school, work, piano and drama, golf before the snow hit, fires burning in the fireplace afterwards.
But there was a change in the air, and it felt something like a vacuum.
I wouldn’t swear to it, but I think it just might have something to do with football.
It wasn't precisely my loss, I have to say, but given my need to keep my finger on everyone’s pulse and my self knowingly within the gestalt of the hour, during football season, I have to keep track of what’s going on simply so I’ll know what everyone’s mood is going to be the rest of the day.
So, while television drones on during the football season, I’m here, there, around, and alert, checking out the Gators, Bucs, Jaguars, and Dolphins with my husband, the Vols and the Colts for both of my sons.
And contrary to what my husband likes to declare, I don’t hate it. I may like other sports better, but football isn’t so bad, especially since after years of watching, I finally understand most of it, too.
My usually mild interest doesn’t mean that I grieve its passing, though.
But the end of the season does require an adjustment of sorts, and that adjustment isn’t just about silence, about the blessed calm that descends when, from Thursday to Monday evenings, the roar of the crowd and the faux-intellectual bleating of Dennis Miller have finally been muted.
No, the adjustment is more about focus. From August until November at least, and until early January if our loyalties are rewarded, we live in anticipation of the Next Game, and its Important Implications for the BCS standings or the playoffs, or whatever. It’s something more than entertainment we’re talking about here. Because of the mysterious, bizarre way sports teams have become totems and symbols of ourselves, what these teenage boys and greased-up millionaires do with the funny-shaped ball somehow, for some reason, actually matters.
And then in late January, just like that, it was over, and for a couple of weeks, all of us are actually kind of lost, looking for a place for our concerns to settle and our attention to be absorbed.
Anyone who thinks about the spiritual life knows that such a vacuum, when it expands through the very essence of our souls, is a very dangerous thing. Paul warns us constantly to make sure that we fill our hearts and minds with good, lest the bad find a niche on which to cling.
It’s quite simple, really. As Augustine and countless others have observed, since we come from God and are created in His image, He is our ultimate destination.
We’re made for God, which means that we are made to move towards all that God is: the fullness of love, truth, peace and joy. That yearning is at the center of our beings, whether we name it so or not.
But if we don’t – that is, if we don’t make God the conscious, explicit focus of our lives, we’re lost. We’re disoriented. Our proper focus is missing, and we wander around like football fans after the season is over, wondering what this undefined yearning inside calls us to care about today.
Certainly the things of this world are good, but our trouble comes when we start directing our ultimate concern, our self-definition and our focus, aspects of life only the immortal merits, towards things that pass into dust.
As Paul points out in Ephesians, without Christ at the center of our consciousness, we’re like babies, “tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery, from their cunning in the interests of deceitful scheming.” (4:14)
If we persist on trying to focus on anything else, we soon discover what Augustine expresses so timelessly in his Confessions: it all passes. The studies and professions we thought would define us are shown to have about as much weight as children’s games. Physical pleasures are only for a moment, and leave destruction behind. Friends move on, and even die.
At that point, we hapless fans of whatever we’ve allowed to trap our fancy and concern for the moment or the season, like Augustine, are left to wonder why we’re wasting our time caring so much about what passes. We wonder why we keep changing to the same attractive, yet ultimately pointless channel, being left lost and aimless time and time again as the show ends, when God, who never fails, awaits?