One fateful day in the 1980s a sweet, skinny little 7-year-old took her first lesson at a nearby pool. The parents' desire for their tiny daughter with the big eyes was for some exercise and hopefully a little more confidence.
They got more than they hoped for. This week my niece stands in front of the world in Athens as an Olympic athlete.
My husband and I are hard-core fans of the Olympics. Although we raised our children without a TV, we did rent one every four years for the Olympics - and watched it nonstop from opening to closing ceremony. We are hooked.
And so it was with interest that I read recently about the origins of the Olympic Games - not Coubertin's revival of the modern Olympics in 1896 in Athens, but the Panhellenic games that took place in Olympia on the Peloponnesus from roughly 776 BC to AD 393.
I noted with satisfaction that we were in a very long line of over-the-top sports fans. Athenian fans in 500 BC, for example, couldn't be accused of being couch potatoes. They walked the 200 miles to Olympia and camped out at the site in the most uncomfortable of circumstances and at the hottest time of the year - loving every minute of it. And then walked home.
Fortunately for those fans, they enjoyed the protection of the "sacred truce," a cease-fire or cessation of hostilities generally honored throughout the Greek world for several months surrounding the games. For the ancient Olympics' run of some 1,200 years, then, travelers to the games could enjoy a degree of safety unheard of in the Mediterranean, and the festival was allowed to go ahead without obstruction as wars were stalled and feuds put aside.
Think of the power in that Olympic idea - to subdue war, if only for a few months.
There has been much coverage concerning the ups and downs of today's Olympic movement. The massacre of the Israeli athletes at the Munich Games in 1972 comes to mind, as well as the upbeat harmony of the recent Sydney Games. Is there any reason to believe that the Games at hand can foster and support in any degree the peace and unity the world desires?
Praying people the world over think there is. Many are cherishing the hope for a "sacred truce" in Athens and its reverberation throughout our troubled world. This kind of prayer without borders does have an effect. "No power can withstand divine Love," wrote Mary Baker Eddy, a 19th-century thinker, spiritual activist, healer, and the founder of this newspaper ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 224).
As the athletes step up to the line, we get to enjoy their effort and desire. To me there is nothing quite like the high level of competition, the excellence, the hope, and the sheer joy and energy of being alive that the Olympics represent.
I've seen the transforming power of the Olympic dream firsthand as my niece has developed her courage, strength, character, and talent to measure up to the demands required of an Olympic athlete. While it's true that this competition will be the end of her sports career (she is retiring), those qualities developed along the way that got her here will be very useful. This experience will smile on her. Medal or no, she is a winner. Multiply that by 10,000 athletes from around the world, and we have reason for hope, as well as a direction for prayer.
The glory of the Lord
shall be revealed,
and all flesh
shall see it together:
for the mouth of the Lord
hath spoken it....
They that wait upon the Lord
shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings
as eagles; they shall run,
and not be weary;
and they shall walk,
and not faint.
Isaiah 40:5, 31