A few days ago I started reading a Gillian Flynn (author of the bestselling Gone Girl) novel entitled Dark Places. (I promise not to spoil anything of the plot in what follows!) In this story, the reader is introduced to the Kill Club, a secret society whose members investigate, discuss, and otherwise obsess over famous crimes. Perhaps most disturbingly, their Kill Club conventions include a swap meet, where people can purchase and sell artifacts associated with the crimes, or at least items associated with those individuals involved in the crimes either as victims or perpetrators.
When I first read this, my stomach churned. I had trouble connecting with and understanding why these fictional people found this macabre pastime appealing. What drew them to it and what did they get out of it? Oddly it was a conversation with my dad later in the day that shed some light on my questions. He told me, with childlike excitement, that he might be taking a vacation to Florida with a friend of his who was accompanying a professional baseball player from our hometown to spring training to serve as his trainer. As my dad’s eyes sparkled with anticipation of being able to talk shop with these gods of sport, I thought about how much money people spend on sports memorabilia and about the baseball cards of Minnesota Twins pitcher Kevin Tapani and Atlanta Braves outfielder David Justice I recently had found going through a box of my childhood mementos. In those odds years when you are no longer a child but not old enough to drive, I had followed the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves with religious fervor, feeling that my fan support could help propel the teams to the World Series.
There is, in fact, something that connects the hobby (if you can call it that) of following infamous crimes with the more accepted pursuit of sports fandom: both meet our human need to connect to something greater than ourselves. Catholic theologian Karl Rahner talks about how human beings are caught between our finitude, our limits, our vulnerability and our transcendence. And we are caught so because we are human beings made by God, the infinite ground of our Being, who is constantly luring us out of ourselves and beyond ourselves so that we can connect with something greater than ourselves.
There is certainly nothing wrong with being a huge sports nut (I’m still reserving judgment about being part of a Kill Club); but as Christians we are taught that there is only one sustainable and fulfilling source of transcendence to which we are called to connect and that is God. Yet I am the first to admit that connecting with God is not always easy. Despite many courses in feminist theology, when I pray to God, the image that automatically fills my heart is of a male God, far removed from the happenings of human life, holding Himself above the world in a position of power. This is not an image that draws me out of myself, beyond myself, toward transcendence; this is an image that shuts me down and makes me think my time would better be spent joining my cheers with other sports fans.
For me, this is where Jesus comes in. In the second reading for this Sunday from Hebrews, we hear the astounding message that Jesus shared in our blood and flesh and that he became like human beings in every way because that is how he could connect with us and ultimately save us. Jesus was fully human and fully divine, which means he experienced what human beings experience fully. We know that he was born to a mother, as we all were, and eventually died, which we all will. We know that he frightened his parents as a teenager, returning to sit with the priests in the temple when he should have been journeying home with Mary and Joseph. We know that he felt anger at the money changers in the temple, that he felt let down by his friends in the garden of Gesthemane, and that his friends Mary and Martha were frustrated with him for not coming soon enough to help their brother Lazarus. And we even have a hint that Jesus felt abandoned by God on the cross, as the gospel of Mark tells us that Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?”
Because Jesus had real human experiences, felt real human emotions, and engaged in real human relationships with God and other human beings, I find it much easier to pray to Jesus. I feel a connection with Jesus because he was fully human, but also know that since he is fully God, this connection helps me transcend myself to be part of something greater than myself: the body of Christ.