Aching For the Promised Land (England, that is)

I teared up today. 

Overwhelmed with emotion I about lost it right there at my mom's house. But don't worry, I reigned things in and got my gushy side under control. I was watching tennis after all, in Britain at that, where it's not prudent to betray too much of one's emotions. But really, I wanted to cry at the beauty and grandeur of it all.

I had just dropped off some groceries for the upcoming Wimbledon Final party I'm having this Sunday and wanted to watch the last set or so between my two favorite players in the game, Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka, both from Switzerland. I get chills just about every time I catch a glimpse of Wimbledon's Centre Court—actually, any grass tennis court. But there is a sacredness to the space of Centre Court in particular, a set-apartness which causes one to approach it with quiet reverence. The staff and legacy keepers of the All England Lawn and Tennis Club are intentional to make us aware of this sacredness, so if you watch enough Wimbledon tennis over the years an unrelenting awe for the tournament and its storied grounds will be beat into you whether you like it or not. 

But I think the legacy keepers are right: there is something special about the place and the silly game that goes on there every year. It is the world's oldest standing tennis tournament, with the game itself being one of the world's oldest sports, and its tradition pervades every moment of the event's fortnight. The sleek everpresent dark greens and lush purples of the grounds and the beautiful if foot-worn browns of the living grass courts signal to all that "this is holy ground." And with the mandatory white uniforms, assured dignity of the priestly chair umpire, the acolyte-like ball boys and girls, and the most efficacious of ritual instruments—the ball and racquet—we have ourselves a glorified religious ceremony going on.  Centre Court Wimbledon is, after all, the "cathedral of tennis" as some have called it.

So, with the weight and history of this place pervading my senses and two beautiful players (Federer especially) putting their hard-earned gifts on display for us, I got teary-eyed it was so beautiful.

I have been watching Wimbledon since I was a young child. I cannot really explain what has drawn me to it, but it might just be I have come to love tennis because I first loved Wimbledon. I remember watching it at my grandma's house, cheering on John McEnroe in the latter stages of his career, hoping, just hoping, he would win one more title so I could see him do it. I remember begging my mom to get HBO for a month, since it was the only place to watch continuous early round coverage in the mid-1990's. I remember desperately wishing to become a professional tennis player just so I could get a chance to play there someday. And I remember swiftly flying by the Wimbledon tube stop during both of my trips to England (the first for a week the other for 3 months), blankly staring at the sign, bitterly knowing we could not stop and spend a day there. 

Added to this, I have romanticized about England as a place since I my early teenage years after meeting some lovely British folk who introduced me to their way of speech and their incomparable sense of humor (discovering the works of C.S. Lewis earlier on in life also had something to do with it too). If ever I have exoticized a place it has been Britain, from it's rolling green hills, barren moors, pervasive castles and mansions, cathedrals, shepherds, sheep, veterinarians, monarchies, working class cuisine, literary heritage, towering if self-deprecating comedic contributions, chocolate factories, age-old universities, Celtic roots, Arthurian legends, and ancient Christian worship. Ahh Britain. The home I long for. The Promised Land to this plain Midwestern American boy. Whereas some people get all wrapped up in patriotic zeal for their motherland, my euphoric nostalgia blossoms at the thought of a foreign land I assume I want to live in.

But as I allow my emotions to get all wrapped up in this place, I become aware of the silliness and sentimentality of it all. I have no idea what it is like to really live in England
—to pay its taxes, work in its economy, deal with its healthcare system, live in its cities and villages—the idealized fantasy is all there is to me. I might say I would move there in a heartbeat if I were offered a job as a music leader in some Church of England parish, but is that what I really want or really need? Would I actually uproot my family to go live in a fantasy that would then have to become a reality? And we all know what realities are like: they are difficult and wrought with trials and tragedies and much required work to be done.

The realized silliness brings conviction though, sobering me to the fact that my fantasy is actually idolatry. Fantasy is fine if it is held loosely but not if it becomes obsession, not if it takes over one's reality to the point it makes one unable to be fully present in the time and place in which they live. 

Every year Wimbledon becomes my false god. If only I could live there I think, breathing and drinking in tennis all the day long, becoming fully British. Then...then I would be complete, then I would be fulfilled. But this longing does not have to turn into idolatry. Instead it can be a pointer to a greater, deeper truth. We all long for transcendence, for everything to be made right, for a time and place where all has been redeemed and made new, when "all things [have been put] in subjection under his feet (1 Corinthians 15:27). This longing is why we all immerse ourselves into something outside ourselves: human relationships, sports, movies, music, stories—creating, making, growing, inventing any and all manner of things.
Britain, Tennis, and Wimbledon does this for me, and if I let them, they remind me of my true home and my true identity and the One who gave me a life where those things can be experienced to the fullest and purest joy.

With that in mind, it is now time to watch some more tennis. There are only a few days left. It might have been silly but I know why I really cried.

Related Article:
My Kids Will Never Become Professional Athletes

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