A week or two ago on public television, journalist Bill Moyers interviewed John Sexton, a noted theologian and president of New York University, about his course called “Baseball as a Road to God” that he still teaches. (You can view the interview and read the transcript at http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/03262010/watch.html)
His course is more general than a straightforward theological study. It is meant to teach the students to think outside the box (excuse the cliché), and, even further, to extend themselves in new directions in whatever they do. Sexton admits the title of the course is “frolicky,” but purposely so to draw in the students while illustrating his point. Note the title does not say baseball is God, but merely a road to God, much as music or church theatrics are a road for others. Baseball can be a transcendent experience, an experience of something greater than the simple sequence of events, an experience such as Sexton recently had as he listened to Rachmaninoff’s Second at the Philharmonic., “an experience of an ineffable transportation to another plane that undeniably became part of my experience.” People expect this when listening to classical music, but not while watching a baseball game. Hence, the quirky title.
I was eager to bring this up with Jim, my friend at the Jewish Community Center (see 10/16/09 posting). Not only is he a lifelong baseball fan (as is Sexton), he once studied for the priesthood and spent five years in a monastery before beginning a career in psychology.
The title did not surprise him at all. He said when he goes to a baseball game, he always goes at least a half hour early to watch the batting practice. “If you saw me, you would think I was in a trance.” He finds something ineffable about the sound of the wooden bat hitting the ball, the sound of the ball hitting a glove, and just the relaxed, graceful movement of the players loosing up before the game begins. All of this is contrasts with the highly structured baseball field itself.
For Jim, it’s a transcendent experience. Not for me, but at least I can understand it.