Jeremiah’s description in Chapter 8 of his field of dead bodies in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem is grim. It’s very real and his anguish is raw. Even God is weeping over the carnage. It’s not just the loss of family, friends, acquaintances. It’s the death of a city, a culture, a religious system, even some say, the death of God. Back then gods were territorial, and my God is bigger than your God was seen as a very practical thing. If one country destroyed another, it was because one God had killed another. So Jeremiah, even in the midst of his pain is learning something new. His God is not dead, but grieving. That in itself is startling, shocking, and a baby step towards hope.
I have never seen a field of dead bodies in real life, unlike folks in New York or Canadian soldiers who have served in Afghanistan. When I think of fields full of bodies in spring time, I think of baseball. Spring camp. Take me out to the ball game, kind of things.
My dad loved baseball. When spring came to Alberta, he would have a bag or two of bats, balls, gloves, and catcher’s gear sitting right outside the Chemistry Room’s emergency evacuation door. If we were ahead on our work, that door would be opened and we’d go flying to the nearest diamond. Kids would breathlessly ask, can we go play?
I hated baseball. All the things I learned about in baseball were about me. Four eyes, easy out, poor looser, sucker up to bat, fumble fingers, slow poke. You name it, they said it, and I hated my time at bat, I hated when they picked sides and I was last, and I hated being out in field, usually so far out that a ball would never come my way, and even if it did, I couldn’t throw to hit the side of a barn.
By the time I was in high school, my classmates didn’t have to say any of those things because I would say them to myself over and over. I knew I was a terrible baseball player. Those negative thoughts buzzed in my head like a bunch of noisy mosquitos.
Funny thing about mosquitos. There is a story of a group of teachers, nuns, actually, coming to Alberta to start a school out in the wilderness. They travelled by Red River Cart, and along the way, their horse foaled. It was strong enough that they were able to get back on the trail in short order and everything was going fine until the sisters encountered a swamp filled with mosquitos. They were so strong and numerous that they killed that colt, despite the ladies best efforts.
Mosquitos in the brain can be just as dangerous. They suck our courage, our serenity and our hope right out of us. They leave us feeling weak and disheartened. They drain our dreams and happiness until all that’s left is grumpy anger that spurts out at innocent folks who don’t even know what’s hit them. They leave us depressed and sometimes we don’t even know we are depressed.
Baseball depressed me. Or more accurately, my thinking about myself playing baseball made me feel frustrated, hopeless, klutzy, stupid and a liability. Except when I was with my dad. Here’s the thing I didn’t really know about him until I was an adult. He had been the school’s softball coach for several years. Right beside his two curling prizes and his statue of the Columbia Space Shuttle he bought when he went to NASA, were two softballs covered with girl’s signatures from games they had won. If there was a baseball tournament within a few days drive, we were there, returning balls for the 5 cents, eating crackerjack. He took us kids out for playing catch and practising hitting flies as often as he could.
But that didn’t seem to translate to me. Klutz that I was, I didn’t get it. And it didn’t help that a song came out when I was sixteen by Janis Ian about baseball which put my experience to music and fed those mosquitos even more.
One day, however, I knew that I was going to watch the ball and hit it. All I needed to do was watch the ball. Nothing else. No mosquitos bussed in my head, just the words, ‘keep your eye on the ball’.
I think that it is good to go back to those old childhood experiences and revisit them. The story, “Shoeless Joe” written by W. P. Kinsella, did just that. It went back to the day that a baseball team lost its vision and chose Money over the game. It found a way through to healing that loss of baseball innocence. It was so powerful that it became the movie, Field of Dreams staring Kevin Costner. It wasn’t just about redeeming ourselves and remembering the good old days of baseball, it became a metaphor for healing our childhood wounds, reconciling ourselves. In the end, Costner’s character was able to reconcile his childhood memories about his relationship with his dad.
When we go back in time to those original memories with the help of a coach or a mentor like Shoeless Joe or a spiritual director or a psychologist like Glenda, we can kill our mental mosquitos. Not by swatting them, but by remembering Jesus’ call to set our priorities straight. You cannot serve God and mosquitos. You have to choose. And when we choose to do so, there is a simple prayer that drowns out their noisy buzz. Just like hitting a baseball, it takes practise, but it will eventually drown out the loudest mosquito. Guaranteed. It may take a hundred repetitions or a million, but it works. It is the balm that God wants us to have. And it’s simple to remember. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Amen.