I’m a sucker for the Olympics, but not for the right reasons. Network coverage is first about nationalism. We only see the athletes from our country. It is second about personalities. There is a reason beyond cheesecake that you get a steady stream of Kerry Walsh-Jennings. Mother of three going after her fourth gold medal who always has a smile and speaks in an easy relatable way, who wouldn’t want to watch that? But the reason I’m a sucker I like to think is even more elementary – it’s about the glory.
The old Hebrew word for glory in its root meaning is weight or mass. When the glory of the Lord fills the temple in Isaiah’s sight, we aren’t talking radiance. It is the weight of the moment before the prophet’s eyes. Millions of moments added together are a feather in the wind compared to this one moment in time. In modern democratic societies glory is something we are not supposed to want because it is unequal. We can have pageantry and pomp which simulate glory, but meet their democratic nemesis in satire. When you encounter true glory, nobody would think of making fun of it. The only thing you wish to do is like Peter on the mount, make the encounter longer. But then it wouldn’t be glory.
Also, unlike our ersatz democratic versions, glory is found in victory and defeat. It is found not just in the glamour sports, but also in the out of the way. In that way glory is more democratic than its replacements could ever be. Four, sometimes eight, sometime more years of training and exercise, uncountable moments, go into this one performance. And even within that one performance of hundreds of moments, it is one that defines it.
Look at the women’s cycling road race. Cycling has an interesting dynamic in that the peloton – the mass of cyclists – are relentless and they almost always catch you. But not always, and that is why some cyclists always make a break away. Cycling is also a team sport, although it may not look like it. There is always a golden child and everyone else is a specialist to protect and carry that golden child. But sometimes it doesn’t break that way. Mara Abbot was not the golden child but a specialist climber. Her role was to hit the hills with everything she has to take the final sprint out of the legs of everyone else while carrying her teammate to the top of the hills. But her teammate couldn’t do it, and no one else would help on the climb. So Ms. Abbot did it all herself opening up a minute lead on the pack. One person had gone with her, but she didn’t share the load. And when they crested the hill, this hanger-on took off down the steep slope. About half-way down nemesis caught her as she couldn’t control the bike and flew over the handles in a heap leaving the in control Ms. Abbot alone in the lead. And she kept it, for a long time. She never looked back. She kept her eyes on what was ahead. After the race, they asked her if she ever thought she might get a medal. Abbot answered, “well at 5 miles and 4 and 2 and 1, no. The chase always captures you, and I had left it all on that hill. But, when I saw 300 meters to go, I said, this could happen.” At 200 m three riders in a chase pack zoomed past her. She didn’t respond, there was nothing left to respond with. Abbot finished fourth. After doing everything right – the perfect teammate, the lead on the climb, keeping within herself on the descent, 4 hours on the bike – she wasn’t on the podium by 4 seconds. But that is the thing about glory, the weight of all those moments compressing into that one. She had run the race. She had left it all out there. The hill specialist without the motor to win it (the expectation was that after the hill she would just drop out of the race) was there. Everyone watching knew she was going to get caught, but she never looked back. It’s not the glory of the podium, but this was something even weightier. This was a unique moment. Terrible and full of glory.
I think the apostle Paul was something of a fan of the games as well. “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever (1 Cor. 9:25).” There he focuses on the winning, but later “So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory (1 Cor. 15:42-43).” All the moments of our lives are compressing to that last one. That is a unique moment, terrible and full of glory. When the weight of eternity is placed on us, have we run the race such that it is a prize, or a punishment? “We do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor. 4:16-18).” Don’t be fooled by the imitations, don’t settle for what fades, see the signs and prepare for that eternal weight of glory.