I was pinged on Sunday last — and thus began four days of hardship and suffering as I was forced into self-isolation. However, to brighten my days, I discovered the joys of the Olympic Games on television. Now I must confess, I had known about them for a while and self-isolation became such a good excuse to bask in the beauty of human endeavour, resilience, perseverance — to watch athletes in all sorts of disciplines pitting themselves against others and often even against themselves.
The most impressive (and often the most moving) are the personal stories that accompany the lives of these Olympians: the Russian gymnast, Artur Dalyloyan; the British rower, Helen Glover; US gymnast, Simone Biles; British diver, Tom Daley; Bermudan triathlete, Flora Duffy. Each of their stories tell us something of courage, of struggle (both human and physical), of ambition, of a desire for success and the determination to achieve it. Look at the faces of those who achieve the Laurel wreaths of victory (or hand-tied bunches of sunflowers). But also read the faces of those who miss out: disappointment, despair, tears — which are most frequently replaced by new inspiration and determination.
That is the very metaphor that St Paul chooses when he addresses the church in Corinth:
Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified.
(1 Corinthians 9.24-7)
We, the communion of saints, seek an imperishable garland, a garland that requires us to work as any athlete does to achieve their goals — through a careful attention to our faith, through ensuring that we see and recognise the struggles of others, that we enable others to see the generous gift of God, the gift of Jesus as our Saviour, and to which we are called to bear witness. That imperishable garland is worth the effort.
So let the 2021 Olympians’ spectacular achievements — in their pursuit of the perishable — inspire us in our pursuit of the imperishable. Andrew