Sport as Spiritual Formation?

Today I’d like to reflect theologically on sport.  Sometimes I look around me at our Western culture and wonder if we overemphasize sports.  Let’s face it, we honor and sometimes even idolize athletes more than most in our society.  Part of me can understand why, as some athletes can do some pretty amazing things with their bodies.  Through their sport they can delight and even amaze us.  But then I think of the salary that some of our professional athletes are making, and I wonder what that says about the value of sports in our culture.  Now, I’m not saying high paid athletes aren’t gifted, nor am I saying they don’t work hard.  But how do we make sense of our dominant sports culture?  . . . At any rate, I’d like to think about some of the benefits of sports—especially spiritual benefits.  Can we grow spiritually through sport?  Two ways come to mind.  Through sports we can learn discipline, which can help us to deny ourselves as we’re often called to do as Christians.  In order to be an athlete, you must do certain things (i.e., train hard, sleep lots, eat well, etc.), but there also certain things you must refrain from (i.e., eating certain foods, staying up too late, over-training, etc.).  As Jesus says in Mark 8:34: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”  Seems to me that the discipline you learn in sport could help you deny yourself as a disciple of Christ.  But I’m also thinking of another spiritual benefit of sport: play.  We may not often associate play with the Christian life, but humans are not just made to work and worship.  We’re also made to play and rest.  And I think sport can help us do that too.  Mind you, that may not happen if you take your sport too seriously, as some seem to do these days.  How do you respond to the loss of a game?  That will help you discern how important sport is to you.  . . . What do you think?  Can we grow spiritually through sport?  I’d like to hear from you.

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2 thoughts on “Sport as Spiritual Formation?

  1. Totally agree. Sportsmanship can teach a Christian many things and it is often a better reflection of our Christian Life. While it is easier to behave as a Christian in a the appropriate setting your true heart comes out it the heat of a game. How we respond to a bad call or a loss of a game can deeply reflect on our Christian character. When I use to climb mountains I often meditated on the scriptures especially the concept of the Race that is set before us. there are so many scriptures that use the analogy of sports that are easily transferred to the Christian life and thus can be used as teachable moments.

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