(The US Women’s Soccer team celebrates their victory over Japan in today’s match. Picture and story are here. By the way, did you know that I’m on Twitter? Follow me @andrewnford !)
Are you sitting down? This is going to shock you: I’ve never been an athlete. Actually, I take that back. I had a rather splendid run as point-guard for Kyger Elementary’s basketball team, but, then again, every Hoosier boy is forced into basketball under communal shaming and the threat of death. By junior high, I ‘d discovered music, so my athletic career ended. I only look back with disappointment when examining my current amount of flab. After all, singing is an ab workout, but the only six-packs it can give you are of the liquid type.
When I submitted my list to Fr. Tim’s new website, 10 Things That Annoy Me, number six was “Sports analogies in sermons, especially around major sporting events. I’m looking achoo, Superbolympics!” Now, I’m fully willing to admit that sports analogies probably work for most people. After all, didn’t St. Paul talk about running the race with only one getting the prize and all that? Yes, of course (1 Cor. 9:24-27) — and I’d never dare to disagree with St. Paul!
Yet, as a musician, you run the race, but you never get a prize. Seriously, as I watched the medal ceremony for the US Women’s Soccer team this afternoon, I couldn’t help but be jealous. They’ve worked all their lives for this one moment and all their hard work paid off. They’ve striven in practice and they spurned a normal life towards this goal. That gold medal is soaked in the sweat of their dedication. Their life stories will have a easily discernible arc. We should be proud of them.
As a musician, though, you never get a prize. You spend hours in the practice room and with your teacher in an effort to craft the perfect recital. A recital, of course, should be a chance to show off all your hard work. Yet, as all musicians know, there is no such thing as “the perfect recital”, as immediately after (or, more likely, during), you begin regretting your mistakes. Most likely, these “mistakes” aren’t even mistakes, but the they’re matters of delicate phrasing, dynamics, voicing, etc. etc. After one recital, I thought to myself, “I wish I had made that forte fuller.” I was disappointed.
I think this is true for all the arts. I know that I’ll never be a good writer and I know that being a great writer is completely out of reach (just like I could never have the perfect recital). I do know that little by little, I get a little less terrible. To make a bad sports analogy of it: it’s less about winning and more about not coming in last. We’re running the race not to win, but to not be terrible. In life, there are no winners, there are only better losers.
I think this makes a better analogy for the faith. Contra St. Paul, there are no winners in the faith, there are only people who lose a little less. There are only people who get a little less terrible, so to speak. Like the perfect recital, faith is not the starting point. Faith is the elusive goal, like the perfect recital. As Dory from “Finding Nemo” (2003) reminded herself, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming”. I’ll leave the gold medals for the pagans; I just want to get a little less terrible.