I was incensed when an American commentator said the English are not really interested in tennis, they’re just mad on Wimbledon. But when I thought about it I had to admit that there was more than a grain of truth in what she said. I could name at least half a dozen people who plan their holidays to coincide with Wimbledon fortnight. Even if they don’t go in person, they spend hours glued to the box like me.
I always find that Wimbledon is something of a spiritual experience. Of course I don’t watch for that reason, I watch because I enjoy the matches, but every year the dedication of the players to what matters most to them makes me compare unfavourably my own dedication to what should matter most to me. It’s the quality of their single-mindedness that always impresses me. When they set foot on the court it’s as if they enter into a time-free zone where they are able to put everything out of their minds in such a way that they can live fully in the present. If they allow anything from the past to disrupt their concentration, even if it’s a point that’s wrongly been called against them, or a piece of gamesmanship by their opponent, then it’s instantly dismissed. Nor must anything from the future disturb them either. Just a few moments indulgence imagining themselves holding the trophy aloft, or celebrating with their friends as they approach match point could mean that they lose it, and the championship that they thought was theirs for the taking.
At the highest level in every sport the match is ultimately won in the mind. I remember Lew Hoad being interviewed a year after his retirement from competitive tennis. What he missed even more than the glory of winning, or the glamour of being a celebrity was the ‘high’ he experienced when playing, as he lost himself in the joy of living more fully in the present than at any other moment of his life.
It’s reminiscent of the spiritual theme that is usually associated with the writings of Brother Lawrence and De Cassaude, but it’s a theme central to all the saints, who gradually discover for themselves that they can only be fully alive in the present moment. It’s the only moment when time touches eternity, and they can encounter the One who dwells there. God cannot be encountered in the past or in the future, but only in the present moment. That’s why De Cassaude uses the expression, the ‘Sacrament of the Present Moment’.
In order to live fully in this present moment unencumbered by a past or a future that could destroy their ‘naked intent’ upon God, the first monks sought out a spiritual Father to help them. In a practice that foreshadowed private confession and the psychiatrist’s couch, they openly confessed the sinfulness and the guilt that indebted them to the past and prevented them from living fully in the present. They freely admitted their unruly and unbridled desires too that did the same by making them live in the future.
Abbot Jacob used to say that past failings can only be redeemed in the present where future failings can alone be prevented. When the past and the future no longer impinges on the present then the sort of single-mindedness that can be seen each year at Wimbledon can enable a person to see and experience the One who can only be encountered in the present moment and nowhere else.
I have to admit that American commentator was right after all, because I don’t really care much about tennis, or follow the fortunes of the stars when the curtain falls on Wimbledon, until it rises again the following year. But the spiritual truths that I’m reminded of each year do remain with me, and help to remind me of what I should be doing all the time to live more fully in the ‘Sacrament of the Present Moment’.