The chance to play a mid-winter round of golf stirred up some fretfulness in me, I noticed.
No doubt, it had a lot to do with the fact that I haven’t touched my clubs since early October. I knew there’d be a fair amount of “swing rust” to contend with: I certainly wouldn’t be at the top of my game.
The track had something to do with my anxiety, too: My brother’s country club. I play public courses 95% of the time, so I always tend to get a little nervous when I head into a “members-only” environment. My shadow-self is absolutely convinced I’ll commit a faux-pas that’ll reflect badly on my host…and get us drummed off the course.
I know from experience, too, the effect that even low-grade anxiety has on my game: Fearful of being discovered a golf fraud, I tend to overcompensate: ‘Swing hard!’ ‘Swing harder!’ Swing-thoughts that always, ever, produce laughable results. But believe me, I’m rarely in the mood to laugh at myself in the wake of such flubs and floozles on the course.
So all this angst was swirling just beneath the surface yesterday as we stepped onto the first tee.
And then, in an instant, liberation: One of my brothers – the best player in our fraternal threesome – suggested that we move up a tee-box, and play ‘winter rules.’ In other words: Let’s forget about the score, and just have some fun. In this case, it meant playing a scramble format – all three hit, and then we advance to the best shot to take our next…effectively erasing the memory (or consequence) of a badly-played ball.
A purist might argue that—flouting the rule book so obviously—we were no longer playing golf at all. What I noticed, though, is that our mid-winter round really did become fun in that moment. I’d been released from the flotsam and detritus that so often encumbers my play.
How strange and marvelous then to encounter an individual, similarly afflicted, in the gospel passage we heard at Mass today.
In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?
Clearly miserable, like an over-anxious golfer who can’t seem to get out of his own way, this poor soul still seems to fear the prospect of his salvation.
‘Have you come to destroy us?’ he asks…as if to say ‘what will be left of me, if this unclean spirit is removed?’
But there’s precious little violence in Jesus’ response, I notice. His command sounds less like ‘swing harder!’…and more like ‘let’s play winter rules.’
“Quiet! Come out of him!”
A new teaching, with authority. And with patience, too, it appears: The patience to stick around and remove even the unclean spirits that we tend to hold most dear.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.