One of my favorite sportscasters was Jim McKay of ABC Sports. One of his duties over the years was to host Wide World of Sports on Saturdays. What impressed me about Jim was his capacity to be enthused about any sport. I remember once he was covering the world barrel jumping championship with genuine enthusiasm. His excitement as someone prepared to beat the world record for barrels jumped was real.
I don’t have the gift. I remember when I first realized that.
Back in 1984 I had been clean and sober for about a year, a gift for which I was and am deeply grateful. At that time, however, I felt my life was tepid. I realized that I lacked enthusiasm. I recalled a popular phrase in recovery circles: “Fake it til you make it”. In other words, perhaps I could act as if I were enthused and perhaps it would take.
But what to be enthused about? I felt it couldn’t be something too important like world peace. I felt that, for the experiment to work, it needed to be something less significant. At that time, I had just had a supporting role in a production of On Golden Pond. In that play the main character is a baseball fan, reading the newspaper and bemoaning the fate of the Detroit Tigers. That was it! I had been a baseball fan when I was young but had drifted away from following it.
But you can’t just be enthused about baseball. You have to root for a specific team. Who to root for? As much as I liked Mickey Mantle, it couldn’t be the Yankees. Nor was I drawn to either home state team from Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. Then it came to me. I’d grown up in Scranton PA which at that time had a Boston Redsox farm team. The first autograph I ever received was from a Redsox player named Jimmy Piersall. And my Uncle Joe whom I dearly loved was a Redsox fan. So There it was. I went out and got a Redsox hat and began checking the papers daily, cheering for a victory or cursing a defeat.
The experiment worked and actually had some unexpected additional benefits. It created something I could share with my four children and now is something I share with my grandchildren. To quote Jim McKay, I have experienced the thrill of victory (2004) and the agony of defeat (1986) and so has my family.
Enthusiasm comes from the Greek and translates roughly as possessed by God within and manifesting divine fervor. Thus, enthusiasm is a spiritual gift, a gift whereby we get a glimpse of God’s passionate relationship with all of creation.
I like the idea of an enthused God. It stands in meaningful contrast to the stern judgmental Old Testament God of my youth. A God that gets excited about Yosemite or Big Bend. A God that smiles when beholding a Van Gogh painting or listening to the New World Symphony. A God that laughs with a child. A God that celebrates faithful love-making. A God who sings. This too has been one of the blessings of my experiment with enthusiasm. It helped me meet the God of Enthusiasm.
Here then is one of the greatest moments of my journey of enthusiasm thanks to the Redsox.
Reflection: Where does enthusiasm fit in your spiritual world?