Growing up in Scotland, the son of missionaries in Asia, where I myself had been born, it was inevitable that one of my childhood heroes should be Eric Liddell.
Liddell was a ‘missionary kid’ born in China, where he would return as a missionary, dying young in a Japanese internment camp during the Second World War. But in the early 1920s he had been both a Scotland international rugby player, and an Olympic sprinter, coming third in the 200m and taking gold in the 400m at the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris.
That part of his story was portrayed in the film Chariots of Fire. The film took some artistic liberties, of course. Liddell, who refused to run on the (Christian) Sabbath,* did not find out that the 100m heats would take place on a Sunday only en route to France, but several months earlier, switching his training to the 400m at that point. Nor did he argue with his disapproving sister, who thought it all a distraction from a higher calling. His actual sister was supportive, and hurt by her fictionalised persona.
Nonetheless, the imagined scene provided context for a famous Liddell quote, whether or not he said it:
“I believe God made me for a purpose [to be a missionary]. But He also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” **
Today the Church marks the Baptism of Christ, an occasion we participate in, in our own baptism, that is all about being plunged into God's approval or pleasure.
Baptism is an unrepeatable event. But it has ripples, many other events remind us of our baptism.
So, a question for this day is, in doing what are you made aware of, and actively participate in, God’s pleasure?
*This is very Presbyterian.
**It is not very Presbyterian to speak of feeling God’s pleasure. Indeed, it is not very Presbyterian to speak positively about feelings at all. And yet, I believe that Eric Liddell knew the truth of these words — whether he spoke them, or not.