When we play, Grace likes to show up. In fact it’s one of the reasons we play. Sometimes we miss her, like the kid who get’s picked last when we’re choosing sides. But she’s there, eager to show herself and join in. Eager to raise the level of play.
Grace shows up most obviously in our movement; flowing, rhythmic, powerful. The dictionary refers to it as ” elegance of beauty or form, manner, motion or action.” Back in the day it was Wayne Gretzky on the ice, Jerry Rice on the football field or Mia Hamm with the soccer ball. This winter it was Jamie Anderson and her gold medal run at Sochi.
Sometimes she comes in a different form, revealed not in motion or movement but in character. Here “playing with Grace” follows a different definition of the word: the exercise of love, kindness, compassion, mercy, favor; a disposition to benefit or serve another. In 2009 as Western Oregon University and Central Washington battled it out for the conference title Senior, Sara Tucholsky hit the first home run of her career with two runners on to give her team an apparent 4 – 2 lead. But as she rounded first base her cleats caught, her leg twisted and she fell to the ground in a heap with a torn ACL.
According to the rules her team mates couldn’t assist her around the bases or she would be called out. If her coach substituted for her it would be just a two run single. Enter Grace. Central Washington University softball players Mallory Holtman and Liz Wallace asked the umpire if they could carry her around the bases. “Yes, he said, that would be okay.” And so they did, giving Sara her first and only home run because, as Mallory said, ” You hit it over the fence. You deserve it.” Central Washington lost the game that day and the chance to go on to the NCAA tournament but Mallory and Liz’s act of sportsmanship stood above all of that. Grace carried Sara around the bases in the arms of her opponents. Talk about elevating the level of play.
Then, there are the times when Grace is something even more. It’s the energy or force that helps you and your team mates and your opponent create or accomplish something you had barely an inkling was possible. Think Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon Finals in 2008. This is Grace the way the theologian describes her: an unmerited, divine assistance given humans for their regeneration and sanctification. The field or court is transformed for an instant from playground to holy ground.
There’s plenty about sports that needs fixing these days. Egos, money and power seem eager to push Grace off the field. That’s our choice though.
Annie Lamott says it so well in her book Traveling Mercies: ” I do not at all understand the mystery of grace – only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.” How we play is up to us. We can play our games with Grace. And, when we do, create something special.