Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Learning the Liturgy at Augusta National: The Practice Round

Maybe it’s because the two typically fall so close together on the calendar, but I’ve long maintained that the Masters is to golf what the resurrection is to Easter. It’s the event. The Masters is marked by the beauty of Georgia’s signature azaleas and pines; there is an air of sacredness about the event with past champions venerated like Saints; and there is often drama that culminates in Sunday’s final round and the exuberant praise that erupts when the leader makes the walk to the 18th green.

Beauty, hushed reverence, drama and celebration: this sounds exactly like what Easter worship is, or should be.

Yesterday a generous friend took me to the practice round that precedes official play, which begins Thursday. Walking the grounds of Augusta National, it dawned on me that I was being drawn into a kind of liturgy, entering into and participating in something larger than myself. Some people worship golf. I am not one of those people. I don’t even play golf, so it’s surprising that I was even invited to Tuesday’s practice round. But as one who does worship God, and looks for ways to worship God in all of life, I came away from Augusta National having been tutored in worship.

For starters I was struck by the fact that there is such a thing as a “practice round.” Like many non-golfers, the attention I give to the Masters is usually limited to what happens on Sunday afternoon. I’ve been aware enough to understand that the actual tournament has been happening all weekend – but I never gave a moment’s thought to a practice round.

The practice round appears to be entirely voluntary for the pros. There are no set pairings of players and there are no official tee times. They simply go out and hit the ball to get a feel for the course. Once the tournament starts, the pros will only get one attempt at each shot – one tee shot, one putt. To my knowledge there are no do-overs once the real thing begins. But the practice round is different. The practice round is a chance to, well . . . practice. The players I watched would linger on the green, attempting various putts from various places on the green, reading the break, working with their pitching wedges, literally trying to learn how to play a particular hole.

None of the pros who make it to Augusta made it there without endless hours of repetitive activity. And once they get there, they don’t get to stop those repetitive behaviors. They go out and hit balls, this way and that. They study the game. They work at their craft.

Dallas Willard has spoken to this reality in the spiritual life. Fruits of the Spirit such as patience and kindness and self-control don’t suddenly appear in our lives when a circumstance arises that calls for patience or kindness or self-control. Those things are evident in our lives because we practice them, in ways large and small. Those who live by faith actually work at living by faith, they practice the Jesus way. They adopt a way of life that allows them to step up when it’s game time.

Worship is worthy of practice. Rushing into the sanctuary for a passive 55 minutes of religion isn’t worship. I like the idea of a practice round. That means that we get ready for Sunday by what we wake up and do on Tuesday. If we can’t – or won’t – worship on Tuesday, we’ll not worship on Sunday. The fact that we’re perched faithfully in a pew won’t change that.

So today is Wednesday. It’s not too late for a “practice round.”

1 comment:

Nancy said...

Reading the break…working with their pitching wedges. I’m impressed. I clearly know less about golf than you do, because I have no idea what you’re talking about. No matter. I'm of the opinion that no woman will ever be a serious contender at Augusta because no matter how prestigious the title, what woman wants a green blazer??

Anyway, the notion of practicing the Jesus way does have merit. This morning, a meeting I had on my calendar for later in the day that would require my traveling to downtown Atlanta and one that I didn’t want to attend anyway was canceled. You’d think I’d be happy about this, but I’m not. I’m somehow annoyed. Maybe because now I have a hole in my day that needs to be filled. No lack of things to fill it with, but now I have to choose what will be the best use of that time. But it’s a perfect chance to practice patience, kindness and self-control so I’m going to take a shot at it. No pun intended.