Saturday, August 2, 2014


I notice the Holy Father's intentions for the month of July, 2014 were Lay Missionaries and Sports.

It's August now but the US Open will be coming up soon, and I do want to share possibly the best thing David Foster Wallace ever wrote: an article in the August 20, 2006 NYT entitled "Federer as Religious Experience."

An excerpt:

"He is, at 25, the best tennis player currently alive. Maybe the best ever. Bios and profiles abound. “60 Minutes” did a feature on him just last year. Anything you want to know about Mr. Roger N.M.I. Federer — his background, his home town of Basel, Switzerland, his parents’ sane and unexploitative support of his talent, his junior tennis career, his early problems with fragility and temper, his beloved junior coach, how that coach’s accidental death in 2002 both shattered and annealed Federer and helped make him what he now is, Federer’s 39 career singles titles, his eight Grand Slams, his unusually steady and mature commitment to the girlfriend who travels with him (which on the men’s tour is rare) and handles his affairs (which on the men’s tour is unheard of), his old-school stoicism and mental toughness and good sportsmanship and evident overall decency and thoughtfulness and charitable largess — it’s all just a Google search away. Knock yourself out.

This present article is more about a spectator’s experience of Federer, and its context. The specific thesis here is that if you’ve never seen the young man play live, and then do, in person, on the sacred grass of Wimbledon, through the literally withering heat and then wind and rain of the ’06 fortnight, then you are apt to have what one of the tournament’s press bus drivers describes as a “bloody near-religious experience.” It may be tempting, at first, to hear a phrase like this as just one more of the overheated tropes that people resort to to describe the feeling of Federer Moments. But the driver’s phrase turns out to be true — literally, for an instant ecstatically — though it takes some time and serious watching to see this truth emerge.

Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty. The relation is roughly that of courage to war.

The human beauty we’re talking about here is beauty of a particular type; it might be called kinetic beauty. Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings' reconciliation with the fact of having a body."

There's much of DFW I can't read. But if he'd written nothing more than this one essay I would still have to bow my head before his supreme, almost otherworldly talent. It's an essay about suffering, the incarnation, and the sublime mystery of talent. And it could just as easily have been called "David Foster Wallace as Religious Experience."

Here's the whole piece.


  1. Wouldn't it be something if those who loved God viewed the spiritual life the same way Wallace prized a story or tennis match? How often can we see what I gift is? I had a Federer moment in the early 90's when Michael Jordan floated over one of the best defenders in the league to advance the Bulls nearer the championship. All I could think was that God created him specifically so that slugs like myself, who were too dim to do much more than watch sports in their free time, could have wonder awakened through beauty. It is because of that insight, ironically, that I no longer watch sports unless it is at some sort of party: the world is way too beautiful to waste too much time. So why not waste our time on beauty?
    And just think of who this may enliven and please. The uncle who is too worried if his son is good enough at baseball and too little worried if he has looked into his eyes that day. The friend who is so afraid she won't make enough money to buy nice clothes and find a boyfriend might just learn that it is more sexy to be confident not in clothes but in her attention rather to the world around her, including the guy she hopes to attract. And the Guy who is the poorest of them all, who locks Himself up in little golden boxes and can't even walk. The One who allows Himself to be imprisoned within the confusion and sin of wretched us. The God who mysteriously made mountains and stars and all else just for us, so much so that, in His absurd overabundance, He allows us (what a mystery) to even forget Him. Beauty and humility are not capable of going beyond that.

    1. oops! I meant -"what a gift it is?" above. -(probably shouldn't blog at work, then I wouldn't have to rush!)


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