Looking for faith in the Washington Post's bittersweet look at Chicago Cubs heaven

Does anyone know where the whole concept of baseball as an alternative religion got started, I mean other than in classic Hollywood flicks?

We're talking about a level of symbolism that's even deeper than the unwritten law that all pre-game montages for pivotal baseball contests must include a shot of nuns -- hopefully wearing baseball hats. Images of rabbis and priests are optional, but producers have to find some nuns to put on camera or it's just not a real baseball game.

Maybe it has something to do with baseball's golden age being linked to the heartbeat of life in the great American cities of the Northeast and Midwest. That was back when Catholic families had lots of children and large Catholic schools -- with lots of nuns, of course -- where so important to urban, ethnic Catholic parishes.

Then there are the rituals of baseball. Football happens once a week, like a blowout bash of a spectacular tailgate kegger (think Ole Miss). But for fans, baseball is part of the familiar rites of daily life, involving a radio (or television), a father's stuffed chair, peanuts, the right beverage, the common wisdom of the box scores and, for the truly devout, even the sacred process of keeping score -- just like your parents or grandparents taught you to do it.

This brings us to God and the Chicago Cubs. We're talking about the theological questions (for some, theodicy was a relevant topic) surrounding the fact that a loving God allowed so many Cubs fans to live and die during the club's 108-year trek through the baseball wilderness, with the promised land of a World Series championship hovering off in the distance.

This brings us to that Washington Post story with the headline: "What of the lifelong Cubs fans who departed before it came?" You got it. Were these fans able to watch the game from prime seats located up in heaven?

You want baseball religion?

CHICAGO -- At the impossible height of a voluminous fandom and a nerve-mauling Wednesday night, a daughter in a family room with her brother, her four children and her nephew rubbed her father’s urn. A woman at home with her husband had the thoughts come to her in a tangle. A son in a small tavern stood and thought of his father and uncle and the Cubs caps that joined them in their coffins.
One last groundball trickled left of the mound, Kris Bryant grabbed it and threw across to Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs actually won the World Series and a subset of fans dealt with one freighted human question. Yes, it’s beyond wonderful, but what of beloved relatives who lived long and well, who for summer upon summer studied a franchise that didn’t win a World Series for 108 years but who departed just before it came?
Louis DeBella, an opinionated Cubs fan who sometimes would toss down the remote, leave the room and yell at the managers (but not so much Joe Maddon), died Oct. 5 at age 83. Cynthia Sawyer-Engelen, an opinionated Cubs fan who would travel to Wrigley Field on Chicago’s “L” even as an octogenarian, died Oct. 6 at 88. Tommy Jankers, an opinionated Cubs fan who had played minor league ball and saw the game through that reflective prism, died June 29 at 81.
As it would be with people, those who loved them have individual ways of understanding what befell them.

Eternal mysteries indeed.

If you doubt that people were discussing this topic with heaven in mind, check this out. You need to know that Michelle Monbrod was the daughter rubbing the urn of the late Louis DeBella. Her dad taught her daughter Melanie to play softball and follow the Cubbies.

As they watched a gripping menace of a game Wednesday night that saw Cubs leads of 5-1 and 6-3, a frightening 6-6 tie and then an 8-7 Cubs win in 10 innings after a 17-minute rain delay, a friend texted Monbrod: “Thank your father for orchestrating the rain delay.” For the last three outs of a 108-year drought, she could sit no longer.
She stood, and she and Melanie held hands.

So what do we have here?

Obviously, we are talking about rituals of a religious nature, including a kind of secularized view of heaven and the prayers of the beloved departed. Obviously, we are talking about the ties that bind some close-knit families. Obviously we are talking about a force that helped provide meaning to the lives of these people.

So what is missing? OK, I'll ask: Did some form of traditional religious faith play ANY ROLE in the lives of these people when they were dealing with their grief and, now, their bittersweet joy? Are there no pastors, priests or rabbis to offer wise quotations about these mysteries? No folks from the local parish who shared baseball seats and pews, week after week?

So meditate for a moment on this next passage. Are we talking about a truly secular vision of the good life? Did the reporter leave a God-shaped hole in a crucial paraphrased version of a woman's life? Only the family would know, I guess.

Up north in the metropolis, Dianne Sawyer Lipkin sat with her husband, David, when the last baseball went into Rizzo’s glove. “We knew she was not going to be around much longer,” Sawyer said of her mother, Sawyer-Engelen, “and I said, ‘Mom, you’re not going to be able to vote for the first woman president, and you’re not going to be able to see the Cubs play in the World Series!’ And she just kind of looked at me and smiled.”
Sawyer cried, and her mother said, “Dianne, I’m 88. I’ve lived a really good life. It’s okay.”
Have Sawyer describe that life, and it does become a mighty paragraph: political involvement, bridge clubs, book clubs, fishing clubs, art, symphonies, theater, writers’ workshops, the Cubs. “This woman, there was no moss growing under her toes,” her daughter said.

That's that.

UPDATE: Uh. Wow. The Los Angeles Times proclaims:

Life cannot give you everything. It is too fleeting, too cruel, too rooted in reality to allow the fulfillment of fantasy. But baseball, in doses both large and small, can serve as a salve, as a distraction, as a reason to believe in infinite possibility. Baseball can give you everything.
 
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