It started with a throwaway Facebook post. A lament that, given what I do for a living, Iwould never get to go to spring training. I mean, the season of Lent, the busiest time of year for parish clergy, just happens to coincide with Major League Baseball’s own season of preparation. Christians may be preparing for Easter but ballplayers are preparing for Opening Day, so there are a few parallels. If you’re desperate enough.
Getting to see my beloved hometown Baltimore Orioles play in spring training has crept up my bucket list over the years. Okay, I don’t actually keep a bucket list, but if I did it would be near the top. Connecting with my inner child, combined with some warm sun after surviving another New England winter — what could be better? Alas. Maybe when I retire.
But then I got a text from my oldest childhood friend who had seen my pathetic post. “Thinking about taking dad to see a couple games next week for his birthday. You in?” After verifying that he wasn’t just mocking me by adding salt to my first world wound, I started thinking seriously about going down for a couple of days. No, I didn’t have the time. No, flying to Sarasota for two days without a Saturday night stay-over wasn’t cheap. But in the end, the answer was clear.
You see, this wasn’t just any friend taking just any father to Florida for spring training. This was my second family growing up. Yes, Ned moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, 20 years ago to start a family and a career and we rarely see each other anymore. But as with the deepest relationships, when we do get together, it’s as if no time has passed.
This wasn’t really about baseball, however. Ned’s dad is dying. It’s not imminent, but the cancer has now spread into the bones so the sand is rapidly moving through the hour glass. A man who has been a source of inspiration and support throughout my life; someone who is a living connection to my own late father; a person whose gentle humor and unconditional devotion to his family and friends have endeared him to so many over the years won’t, in fact, live forever.
And so, in-between innings, we talked about life and death, faith and family. Time stood still as the three of us laughed and cheered and talked about the things that really matter in life — the relationships that define us and shape our identity — and the sense of peace in the face of death that, even as it comes from a life well-lived, defies all understanding.
Spring training was everything I anticipated it would be. There was hope, as well as the defining sights and sounds of baseball, in the air. The crack of the bat, the warm breeze, the wafting odor of grilled hot dogs, the chatter of the ballplayers, the smack of balls hitting leather.
As people throughout the world prepare to walk through the agony of Good Friday before encountering the joy of Easter, it’s worth remembering that resurrection comes in many forms. Spring training was, for me, a resurrection experience in the midst of Lent. It was time spent with people I care for deeply, and included moments I will always cherish.
But that’s really what the Christian faith is all about — snatching life from the jaws of death; finding hope in situations that feel utterly hopeless.
Wherever you may be during this holiest time in the Christian year, and wherever you may worship, I encourage you to nurture the relationships that mean the most in your life. This begins with the God who loves you with reckless abandon and continues with those to whom you have had the privilege to walk this mortal journey.