I believe this is the reason for the endless fascination of golf.
The game is a metaphor for the soul's search for its true ground and identity.
Years ago, I gave up trying to explain to people that Tim’s life long passion with golf is a spiritual discipline. But it is.
In the confusion and depression of his youth, he would take his clubs out to a field near his home and practice in the setting sun as the breeze rustled the trees. He explained to me early in our courtship that when the wind came through those trees, he felt the presence of a Holy Soirit, and thus began his lifelong conversations with God on that field and all others to follow.
As you might imagine, since his preferred form of prayer was talking to God on a practice field, finding his “spiritual tribe” was a struggle. But, after coming into contact with the readings of the Shalem Institute, I thought he would be drawn to the deep, quiet spirit of this group, and when they announced their first West Coast spiritual formation retreat, I signed us both up.
We arrived at an old monastery in California tucked between two deep hillsides on acreage filled with prayer circles, stone buildings and narrow paths into a small gorge. After our first day in meeting and prayer, Tim and I debriefed in our room, and during his reading of one of the selections, he turned to me with quiet joy and announced, “I known who I am…a contemplative…”.
He had found his tribe.
On the evening of the second day, we were sent into our small groups to prepare for the next day’s silent retreat. Our given task during the silence was to watch and listen for what God had to say to us in our journey. Tim asked in his group how to best prepare, and a seasoned spiritual director said, “Take an orange with you,” because, as she later explained, the smell and the touch of it would keep him grounded.
The next morning, each of us was given several passages of scripture to read to ground ourselves. Tim sat in his group and silently read the first line of the first scripture, which started with the word “Go”. He could not get past the first word and rose after only a few moments called by the Spirit to be alone and drawn to the path that cut through the gorge to the top of a hill.
Coming to a small bridge over a creek, he noted a flash of orange in the distance upstream. Pausing to watch, he saw it meander slowly towards him from ledge to ledge as it traveled down the gurgling stream. As it got closer, he realized it was an orange floating down towards him. Incredulous, he waited until it bobbed down the current to the bridge and knelt down to pick it up. In that moment, he realized that the Creator of the universe, with a million other things to watch over, had set a divine appointment with him.
Holding the orange in his hand as he walked, he placed himself in an attitude of open listening. With all of the baggage being an athlete carries, he had struggled his whole life to believe that he could actually be in communion with a Holy God simply by doing something he loved, something that brought him peace, something that filled his soul. The question on his heart was the same as always.
How can something like practicing a simple sport bring me closer to you?
He hiked higher, the hillsides crowding in on the trail, and as he pondered his question, a tiny flash of white caught his eye. There just above his head, so stuck as to almost be invisible, was a golf ball. He excavated it from the hillside and placed it in his pocket, continuing on. Suddenly another ball appeared stuck deeply in soft earth. And then another. No golf course was within miles. Nothing had been on this trail when he hiked it the day before. And now, there was abundance.
Hiking on and still holding on to the orange and the two golf balls he had decided to keep, he continued climbing to a small clearing in which stood a single spreading tree and a large boulder split through its middle. Staring at the cleft in the rock, he realized he had received his answer. A deep peace flooded him.
Yes, the God who loved him unconditionally could meet him in his quiet passions; He had, after all, created him that way.
Decades have passed since that divine encounter revealed to Tim his identity. He continues his daily practice of long prayer conversations as he tosses his questions and his concerns patiently in Spirit’s direction, and the breezes whisper to him insights and answers. His relationship with his Creator is a moment by moment, living, breathing friendship. And I have given up trying to explain to anyone his unusual spiritual discipline because his life speaks for itself.
He is a man who knows He is deeply loved by God. He is a man who is at Peace. He is a man who lives in a state of grace.
And when the sun comes up in the morning and shines its light on the oranges now ripening on the tree in our own desert backyard, I am reminded daily that God will use whatever He can to get our attention and speak to us of Love.
Even an orange.