Monday, August 02, 2021


I’ve been loving the camaraderie on display at the Tokyo Olympics. It is a joy to behold. Behind every success, and, indeed, upholding athletes in disappointment, there’s a team.

In the epic poem that opens the Bible, human beings are invested with the dignity and purpose to be fruitful, and multiply, and subdue the earth—which, understood in context, is to draw out the conditions for flourishing from the chaos that threatens to overwhelm.

Also in the great myth, or meaning-full story, in which that poem is grounded, human beings are described as earth-lings, creatures made from clay, animated by the breath of God. The ground zero for subduing the earth is located within ourselves.

At the Olympic games, we see gold, silver and bronze, extracted from the ground, refined, shaped by the skill of human hands, and given back to the clay that is extracted, refined, and shaped by God's hand, so to speak.

We also see something of what it means to be fruitful and multiply, as belief breeds belief, and success liberates further successes. We’ve seen that in team GBs performances in the pool and on bikes, and in the double gold medals won by Italy on Sunday in the men’s high jump and 100m.

But this Olympics, perhaps on a platform like never before, we have also seen what it looks like to have to subdue the earth. To face the chaos that threatens to overwhelm. Sometimes we get to see the triumph over the chaos, only hearing after the event the tale of the scale of the internal struggle overcome (Max Whitlock, Adam Peaty). And sometimes, at these games, we have been given an insight into the stage before victory, the place where the earth is breached, the moment when the flood waters have rushed in (Simone Biles).

In another ancient epic text, the book of Job, we may discover great insight into such times. In Genesis, we are shown the moment when God speaks, declaring, ‘Let there be...’ But in Job, we join the action earlier on, witnessing God’s silence, God’s attentive listening to the cry of the overwhelmed clay, to the sound made by the breath, given by God, returning to God. Listening, honouring, until the breath returns to calm.

There is a time to triumph over adversity, and a time to listen to the body and bide your time. And those moments show no respect for whether it is the hours of unseen practice or the hour of the most public stage. If anything, the chaos that seeks to overwhelm life desires to do so at the moment of maximum humiliation, to destroy us, to bury us if it could, with critics piling in like Job’s friends of old.

It is sheer nonsense to claim that whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, but, the One who animates clay re-animates us, again and again. We are made to subdue the earth, in order that it may be fruitful.

Chances are, you are not and never will be an Olympian. But you are of clay. Listen to the clay, and, just as important, try to note where you find yourself right now, in relation to the waters and the darkness that break out against you. And know that, though it happens, you will emerge again into the day.


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