{Another mug in the Kellam kitchen cupboard suggests a theme for reflection, during Lent 2017. If you are just finding your way into this journey, I really can’t explain the mug thing.}

This is one of many photo mugs in the cupboard. It came from my daughter Wendy and family for Christmas, and is said to be a rare and limited edition. You can tell that the guys play hockey. They’ve both been on skates almost since they stopped creDSC07325.jpgeping along the carpet. We go to as many games as we can, though many are on Sundays during church time, and some are fairly far away.

When the guys started this hockey thing, I wasn’t a fan of the sport. For one thing, I didn’t know anything about the rules. Plus, the grown-up version was known for its violence, especially when players dropped sticks and gloves and fought fist to face. And there was the cold…kind of a necessity for the presence of ice. Added to those negatives…like soccer, there is so little actual scoring! You watch the puck get pushed, batted, slammed, and slid, and you could go a whole game without anybody getting the disc into the net.

But now, I know a thing or two about hockey. Not much, but enough to enjoy the youth leagues, my older grandson’s developmental league, and the very occasional Cornell University game I might see when a ticket becomes available. I even like the NHL games on TV when we’re over at the hockey-oriented house. That said, we have gone to a couple AHL games in the small market a few miles away, but the fights there seem to be the main attraction, with heavy metal music cued up and ready to blast through the P.A. at the first sign of fisticuffs. (I once heard a young boy ask his Dad at the Scout Night promotion, “Why do they fight so much?” Dad’s wise answer: Because they don’t play hockey that well.)

As my grandsons get older, the hockey games get more exciting, and not just because there’s an elevation in aggressive play. We get to debrief the games, often over breakfast at a favorite diner, and I hear why things turned out the way they did, how the guys felt about their playing and the refs’ refereeing, and what that penalty was about. When the kids were in the most elementary levels, the hockey was almost in slow motion, but now, it’s getting closer to the real thing. And I look forward to dressing in layers, pulling my winter knit hat over my ears, and pointing my camera at the action. Teenaged Ryan appreciates my shooting video that he can use for self-critique and edit for highlight reels.

I confess that I wasn’t an athlete growing up. Nor at any point in life. High school found me relatively tall, but being a six-footer didn’t make me coordinated. I never learned to swim. I wasn’t built physically or psychologically for football. I took golf lessons one summer with my friend David, but I never had the confidence to clog up the busy golf course. Need I recount my incompetence in every sport that comes to mind? Hey, I did have a baseball glove. And I still have it. It’s the only one I’ve ever had; that should give you an idea of how often I’ve used it since buying it in 1958.

I have always liked going to the local minor league park, at first with my Dad, now with my wife and the folks next door. I can’t remember that last time I devoted three hours (plus) to watching a major league game on TV though. I enjoy televised college basketball if the ACC is involved and if my team won. That’s right: I don’t want to waste my time on a lost cause, so I DVR each game and watch if I can see a victory. Evidence of something, I know.

And on those mornings when I reach for that mug with my grandsons’ images on the rink, I am glad for them, that they have skill and passion and good sportsmanship as they play. They compete to win, yes, but I am pretty sure they are still doing what they do for the fun of it. See, it’s a game. A game. They play. They take pleasure honing their skills. They delight playing well. They enjoy the sport.

I know that sports can be big business, pressure-filled, sometimes concussion-inducing. I realize that college athletics can get out of hand, especially when coaches make millions more than the best professors in the classroom. I’m aware of the downside of sports. But at the heart of the games is something we still call recreation. Or, re-creation.

To “recreate” has its root in restoring to good or wholesome condition. Refreshment. Even nourishment. The games I remember playing in a neighbor’s backyard as a kid, those pickup softball games, were about as wholesome as play gets. (Not so for the gym class in high school where I got knocked out playing something called “speedball;” we needn’t go into that.) In their purest sense, the games we play with bodies and minds and spirit in healthy competition can refresh us personally and restore a feeling of community and comradery among players and spectators. Beyond the purest sense…that may be another story: ugly, divisive, even violent. Witness the mayhem following a heated international soccer game.

Still, God has planted within us a desire to play, laugh, handle victory and defeat with equal grace, push ourselves toward excellence, and build our bodies to compete. Jesse Owens,  Jackie Robinson, Eric Liddell, Arthur Ashe, Gordie Howe,Peggy Fleming, Steffi Graff… heroes to those who want to play hard and well. But most of us? To be re-created and refreshed throwing a Frisbee, playing a round of golf, participating in a senior citizens softball game, or even the one sport at which my wife Joan and I excelled (doubles champs at the honeymoon resort in the Poconos): ping pong — that is what play is all about.

Maybe we might make Lent more playful somehow, not playing at religion, but finding some way to re-create, refresh, and nourish the soul of playfulness inside the child in each of  us. Let’s begin! You serve!