Thursday, February 4, 2016

Basketball Joy

My heart has been heavy since the recent death of my brother. Perhaps that is why I have especially treasured times of joy and laughter these past few weeks. Riley, one of our grandsons, recently decided to play basketball, a different organized sport in our family, though I have great memories of my sons playing basketball for hours on our driveway while they were growing up. My husband and I went to watch one of Riley’s basketball games. We sat against the wall along the edge of the basketball court as the two teams of 8 year-olds played. The noise was deafening, especially since there was another game on the adjacent court. When the whistle and buzzer sounded there, the players on our side of the divider froze. It was hard to tell where the sound came from. The players had a great time racing up and down the court and trying to hit the basket. Some of them already showed talent. No one cared much about the score. The rules are modified for the young players, so I found myself confused on occasion as I tried to remember the few rules of basketball I learned years ago as a member of the pep squad at my high school. Despite the deafening din of pounding feet and bouncing balls and the noise of the whistles and buzzers, it was great fun.

A week after our grandson’s basketball game, my husband and I sat on the edge of the basketball court at Baylor University to watch a different kind of basketball. He had surprised me with tickets to the Harlem Globetrotters, and not just any tickets, but courtside seats. He hoped they would draw me out onto the floor and into their crazy antics. I fell in love with the Harlem Globetrotters as a little girl, but had never seen them in person. Ticking this item off my bucket list took a long time, but it was worth the wait. I don’t remember when I last laughed that hard. For a time, I forgot my sadness as I laughed along with the rest of the crowd at the silliness on the court, from a ball filled with helium that floated into the rafters, to one of the players grabbing a child from the sidelines to use as a shield to protect himself from a bigger player, to my favorite part: an instant replay acted out in slow motion, using a beach ball instead of a basketball, narrated by the Big Easy, the tallest player on the court. I hated to see the game end.

As we headed home, I contemplated the joy of our time at the game, and how much lighter my heart felt. I thought what fun we could have taking our grandkids to a Harlem Globetrotters game, but then thought perhaps Riley should learn the rules a bit better first, since the Globetrotters broke every rule of basketball I knew, and some I didn’t, from one coach stalking into the middle of the court with his own rulebook to deride the referee, to the player who pulled himself up to stand on one of the goals so a teammate could throw him the ball, which he promptly dropped in the basket. A different kind of joy than watching 8 year-olds learn basketball, a joy punctuated with laughter, made all the more poignant because of the sadness of the last few weeks. I’ve been teaching an adult Sunday school class at my church. The most recent lesson was on prayer. One of the theologians in the study talked about joyful play as a kind of prayer. I like that image. To be truly joyful is to be in God’s presence, which is the purpose of prayer after all. There’s something holy about pure, unbounded, joy. God designed us for love and for joy. When we are filled with joy, we are near to the heart of God.

Grace and Peace,