I love the Olympics.
I watched the opening ceremonies this week with wonder and fascination as athletes from all over the world paraded into the Sochi stadium, displaying colorful flags and costumes. Like many others across the globe, I was riveted to the screen. There was so much to see and celebrate as each nation was announced and their young champions strode past.
But this year, my attention was especially drawn to a ubiquitous presence around each and every athlete at the Winter Games. How had it escaped my notice before? Alongside the athletes marching into the stadium often appeared an older woman or man in the delegation, too old to be competing. These individuals walked with compelling authority and presence, but you could easily miss seeing them in the opening ceremonies.
As the games unfolded, I began to notice them everywhere: leaning over to whisper a last minute encouragement or reminder just before an event; greeting the athlete in those first moments after they finished; and then, always, sitting beside the athlete as they nervously waited for the judges’ scores. Before a world of watching eyes, vulnerable and alone, under tremendous internal and external pressure to win, there was always one person the Olympic athlete looked to for solace: her coach. In this critical moment, each athlete had a coach who travelled with them into competition to offer calm, comfort, focus and advice when needed. Why had I never seen that before?
This year, as I watch the games, I’ve been struck deeply by this relationship. While the image of a fierce competitor battling all alone in the arena is a cherished one—it is, quite simply, inaccurate. No one gets to the Olympic stage alone. If the games are any indication, incredible talent, sincere desire and pure determination are not enough by themselves. You need a coach, an experienced mentor, who can develop your potential over time and offer the stability you need to enter the arena and emerge with grace, whatever the outcome.
Five months into my time as a Benedictine Sojourner, recognizing the presence of these coaches at the Olympics touches me in a new way. I used to believe that the Benedictine promise of stability was primarily a commitment to a geographic location, to stay in the same place and not run away. But I’m beginning to see that stability has a lot to do with developing deep, committed relationships that can steady us in our trials and teach us how to continue. Over time, the community acts as a coach that can hold me up to my highest potential, keep me stable when I’m afraid and doubting myself and offer calm, comfort, focus and advice when needed.
It is tempting to believe that a monastic does it alone. In fact, I confess that before coming here, I had that romantic notion myself. But Benedict makes it clear that this is an illusion:
The workshop where we are to toil faithfully at all these tasks
is the enclosure of the monastery and stability in the community.
– Rule of Benedict 4:78
The Rule is offered in the context of a relationship of love, trust and mentorship: “this is advice from a father who loves you; welcome it, and faithfully put it into practice.” That is easy enough to hear when you feel on top of your game, it is another altogether when you face disappointment and challenges. (I imagine the Olympic competitors experience a similar tension this week.) But it is precisely in the arena of life, that Benedict charges me to face into my relationships, into the enclosure of the monastery and into the steadfast experienced guidance of community.
Follow this link to read Rosy’s earlier posts: Living in Community – A Benedictine Sojourner’s Journey