“Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” Jesus to his disciples in John 14:25. “Do not be afraid” is said 364 other times in the Bible.
Enter Sandman. (That is the song played at Yankee Stadium every time relief pitcher Mariano Rivera enters a game.) For 19 years in the Major Leagues, Mariano Rivera has played a high pressure game, in the highest pressure time of the game—the ninth inning –without fear. And he has done it because of his faith. I want to reflect on this with you in this blog. This is taking a big risk—praising a New York Yankee in Red Sox Nation. But it is a way for me to model R.A. (reckless abandon). And it should be less reckless because everyone— no matter whom they root for—acknowledges Mariano as the greatest closer in the history of the game. Over 650 regular season saves. And even better in the playoffs and World Series—a record-shattering 42 saves and 0.70 era. Red Sox fans should know that Mariano blew more saves against the Red Sox than any other team – so be kind to him.
This great pitcher gives us three pathways into the spiritual life. One concerns fear. Over and over again—hundreds of times—“Mo” has come into the game with everything on the line. The score is close. One bad pitch and his team loses. Why does Mo look so calm? Is it a psychological gimmick? Is it mind over matter? No, it’s faith. His pitching glove is inscribed with “Phil 4:13” referring to Paul’s letter to the Philippians “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”
This is not to say that God is a Yankee fan and not a Red Sox fan. Even I acknowledge that. Mariano’s faith allows him to be free of anxiety. In numerous interviews he says his life is in the context of God’s love. Even if 50,000 screaming fans in the ballpark and millions watching on TV and the Steinbrenner family glaring from the skybox believe the next pitch is life and death, he knows he and everyone watching is embraced by a greater reality. He knows he belongs to God and everything that happens belongs within God—who holds us in love no matter what.
Our BCP invites us to “a peace that surpasses understanding.” I ask God for that peace often. A peace that goes beyond my reason. A peace that is in my heart even if it is not in my fluttering stomach and my panicky mind. I might be wrong, but I see that type of peace in the great #42 every time he takes the mound. If he can have it, maybe I can too.
And Mo does this even though he has failed. Many times against the Red Sox—see above. And famously in the 1997 playoffs against the Indians and in the 7th Game of the 2001 World Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. (Although I blame manager Joe Torre for playing the infield in and thereby letting a shallow bloop by Louis Gonzales to land safely for the game-winning hit. Don’t get me started.) After every failure Mo goes out there with confidence. He does not live imprisoned in his past but hopeful in his future. He forgives himself. We could all learn from that.
Lastly, #42 models generosity. He is from the poor country of Panama and he remembers where he came from. Mo has donated millions to charities and churches in his country. He has been given much and he given much back. In this, his last year in baseball, Mo has gathered together all the “behind the scenes” people at every ballpark he goes to for the last time. He sits with the secretaries and the ushers and the vendors and tells them how much he appreciates what they do.
I will miss Mariano taking the ball in the ninth inning of a close game. I will miss his famous “cutter”—the pitch that has baffled thousands of batters and broken hundreds of bats. And I will ask for the “peace that passes all understanding” so I, too, can live without anxiety, with confidence that I am held by God and that “all things shall be well” (Julian of Norwich).
If you don’t give me too much grief about this blog, I promise to write something spiritually affirming of the Red Sox. How about a reflection on “The Impossible Dream” of 1967? Could this be an analogy to the Kingdom of God – so near but not yet?