Thursday, July 10, 2008

The yoke of self-justification

My favorite magazine is Sports Illustrated. I tell you, it gives you an incredible lens for the days events (such as the article on long-distance runners in Kenya during post-election violence) as well as religion (forgiveness for the minor leaguer whose errant foul ball killed the first base coach Mike Coolbaugh), all in a clear and unpretentious style (well, sometimes there are pretentions).

This week in the brief blurbs under "For the Record," I was surprised by this write-up:

Confessed To losing the 1983 Wimbledon final on purpose, Andrea Jaeger. In an interview with Britain's Daily Mail, Jaeger, who became a nun in 2006, said that the day before the match she had a fight with her father--over, among other things, her consumption of potato chips--and she went to Martina Navratilova's apartment to call a cab. After being let in, Jaeger said that she realized she had "interrupted [Navratilova's] preparation for the final." To make amends, Jaeger, who was then 18 and ranked third, told the newspaper that she missed shots on purpose and often hit the ball right at the No. 1 player in the world. "I went on court in complete peace knowing that giving the match away was the right thing to do," she said. "I had to look myself in the mirror for the rest of my life. It meant more to Martina anyway."

OK, if I'm Martina Navratilova, I'm not thanking her for "helping" me win Wimbledon. There's more than a little arrogance and (I suspect) self-deception here. Was she "helping" Martina win, or was she punishing her father? Or was she unable to win anyway? Now, she's 18 and you do stupid things when you're 18 (and when you're older than that, of course), but it's a surprise that upon reflection she still thinks this was a good and noble thing to do.

Strange segue, but the Archbishop of Canterbury gave a crackerjack sermon on Sunday to the Church of England's General Synod. He was preaching on that wonderful text from Matthew, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light," and quoted from one of the desert fathers (almost wrote "dessert fathers," there, and I think that deserves a post of its own).

One of the desert fathers remarked, 'And how very easily we laid aside the yoke of Christ and burdened ourselves with the heavy yoke of self-justification' - There's a phrase to ponder – a heavy yoke of self-justification. That's the law, that's the curse. That's the waterless pit indeed - where we struggle ceaselessly, unrelentingly, to make ourselves more right, and to lay hold upon our future. We lay upon ourselves a heavy yoke, from which only the grace of Jesus Christ can deliver us. In a nutshell, we lay upon ourselves the yoke of desperate seriousness about ourselves.

There's a lot of chatter among Anglican commentators that this signified a change in direction for the Archbishop, that he's no longer going to be concerned about shoring up the Anglican Communion for the future and instead worry more about the here and now.

I know full well how preachers preach to ourselves first of all and congregations are allowed to listen in. But the message is also meant for the listeners, and I find it understandable but odd that no one has said, "In what way have I laid upon myself the yoke of desperate seriousness, the heavy yoke of self-justification?"

Which of course brings me back to Sister Andrea. It's been 25 years since she threw Wimbledon. She did not confess this in private; she confessed this to the Daily Mail. To me this smacks of a heavy yoke indeed. But this is not for me to say. Because it also brings me back to me. It's only for me to listen and wonder where have I put on this yoke of seriousness and self-justification. Far easier for me to see it in others. I'm going to have to work to see it in myself.

1 comment:

qoe said...

I have been wondering about that match for years!! I don't take SI, and so was unaware of that article, and even that Ms. Jaeger had taken vows. Thanks for solving a mystery for me! As for s-j, this is the single most difficult burden that faces the ego at any given Now; the internal chatter is relentless in its pursuit of... what? Uniqueness, perhaps--if not perfection.

The practice of mediation can help put the chatter in its proper perspective, and maybe quell it to a certain extent, but whether or not the yoke can be left in the desert so that one can truly appreciate the dessert is anyone's guess. (Says one who just enjoyed an unjustified cup of Mexican Chocolate ice cream at Tucker's, Alameda...)