Friday, February 24, 2006

Olympics, Transfiguration and passing the mantle. Click Here for Sunday's readings

Continuing to watch the Olympics this week and reflecting about the reading on the Transfiguration and Elijah passing his mantle on to Elisha. To me the look on the winners faces is a look of transfiguration - especially the ones who did not expect to win, Shizuka Arakawa, the Japanese gold medal figure skater was transformed from a quiet, reserved, determined, and graceful skater to a stunned and smiling winner as the scores flashed her triumph. The US speed skater, Joey Cheek, not expected to win but by .42 he got the gold and then gave his bonus for medaling to a fund to help athletes in poor countries. Smiling and waving and standing tall as he took his place on the podium. There were athletes for whom this was a last chance and gave it their all. The joy of being able to compete with the best of the best was evident in many. Today (Friday) I saw the women's freestyle cross country race - a grueling event of all out skiing - the winner fell to the ground with exhaustion and suddenly from the crowd her little daughter ran out to embrace her - she was revived and transfigured - partly from winning but much from the delight in her little girl. Many of the athletes seemed to have a good sense of balance about it all - Sasha Cohen, who was leading for the gold medal in figure skating said - you know what - it is just 4 minutes of my entire life. The Russian skater, Irina Slutskaya's mother is in the hospital awaiting a kidney transplant - but when she "only" won bronze - she shrugged and spread her hands as if to say - I did what I could and life is more than this. During one cross country ski race the Canadian cross country skier broke a ski pole as she raced along; she floundered a second, and then someone in the crowd handed her a pole, and she managed to win a medal. Later, it turned out that the person who gave her the pole was the Norwegian coach, whose own athlete then finished fourth. When asked, the coach made a remark to the fact that it was supposed to be a contest of skill, not one of equipment failure.
Each of these had a transfiguring moment - maybe winning the gold medal, maybe in doing their personal best, making the games more than a grueling "war" - transfiguring it into what it is supposed to be - a time of peace - of international good will and fun.
Many now will pass on the mantle - some by being a role model, some by teaching, some in giving their money to help athletes from poor countries train and compete. I noticed that many of the current coaches were once stars in their own right - gold, silver, bronze, all competitors - and now they are passing on the mantle to the new athletes. The Japanese coach was the first of his country to compete - people laughed at him and his partner as they gamely participated - now his skater has taken the gold - his mantle of determination and love for his sport passed on to his skaters, even though in his day he was considered a joke. Inside he had another picture that did not depend on others for his vision.
This is what is revealed in our Gospel today, Jesus knows who he is and suddenly the fullness of that is revealed to his disciples. His vision of his life and ministry did not depend on the perceptions of others. He walked his path whether it took him to the glory of the mountaintop or to the cross. We as his followers are called to do the same - as who we are, with the gifts we have been give, to shine forth into a hurting world. And then in time pass our mantle on to those who are coming forward in our midst - our youth - already taking their place in the leadership of our communities. I was very encouraged by the youth in the Olympics - on the whole they seem to have a good sense of balance and joy in their lives. Hopefully those of us who are older can learn from them.
In Wyoming we are starting an initiative that will offer opportunities and leadership for youth. Check it out at Wind and Wings.