Can a sporting ground be a spiritual home?

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What does it mean when we call the MCG (pictured) or Glenferrie a spiritual home? Photo: Nils Versemann / Shutterstock.com
What does it mean when we call the MCG (pictured) or Glenferrie a spiritual home? Photo: Nils Versemann / Shutterstock.com

The quiet contemplation provided by churches is often the inspiration for some of my columns, reflecting something of a spirit “at work” in its stillness, but at other times assistance comes from quite different sources.

Increased prompts are available everywhere: opinion writing, for example, having faced challenging contributions from people who share their thoughts through modern means of communication, writing blogs etc.

An idea for this week was stirred by a correspondent using an older form of personal expression: writing a letter to this newspaper.

“Is skill at brawling over possession of a ball really the most spiritual thing our culture offers for celebration or worship?” he wrote.

Writing about the practice of various football fields being declared “spiritual homes”, his thoughts prompted my return to an unfinished work which had been partly composed at the beginning of the most recent season of winter sports.

His observations stemmed from a media report referring to Glenferrie Oval in Melbourne as the “spiritual home” of this year’s AFL premiers, Hawthorn – and the label also has been applied to the original bases for some NRL teams in Sydney .

My earlier work had followed a discussion with friends who questioned whether “spiritual” could be directed to things that didn’t relate to matters of religious faith.

A check of dictionaries failed to resolve the issue because one source gave the word a mostly religious context, while another was more open to broader interpretations.

According to the Cambridge definition the word relates to deep feelings and beliefs, especially religious beliefs; while the primary meaning in the Oxford Dictionary had it “relating to or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things”. The latter described it as “having a relationship based on a profound level of mental or emotional communion”, while another source delivered the humanistic interpretation that it was about “personal growth and blissful experience”.

Based on the nature of this research we continued questioning whether the term could successfully apply to descriptions of situations that were not as actually spiritual as we considered them to be.

We were struck especially by the way that uses of the term seem to be broadening across general society at the same time as many people at least outwardly appear to be more loyal to following sporting teams than to the practice of their faith.

Going back to the dictionaries in attempting to broaden the probe, we found that checking the word “spirituality” revealed that it was associated more closely to religious matters several of us considered to be the key to using the word or words that were under consideration.

Being spiritual was defined as displaying qualities of holiness and piety and was linked to matters of ecclesiastical law and to the quality or state of spirituality which was seen as belonging to the Church or to a cleric, and that seemed to be much closer to satisfying our views on the issue.

People who become involved in exercises such as attempting to contact the dead by holding séances or trying to predict the future also claim to be involved in what they describe as spiritual experiences – but, as with football teams, the application of the word seems far removed from religious practice.

Our letters’ correspondent was concerned that “spiritual home” being used in relation to a football field seemed to suggest that sport, despite its many good points, unfortunately may be taken by some people to be Australia’s religion and he questioned whether sport was “an obstacle to finding a spiritual homeland or context for our inner lives”.

True spirituality in the Christian sense is to be open to the worship of God and sceptical about uses of the term in other contexts.

It’s also about appreciating the presence of the Holy Spirit, which may have something to do with my original point about seeking guidance for these writings.

Lines from hymns can prompt worthy spiritual thoughts with Trinity Song by Australian priest Fr Frank Anderson stirring us to remember: “Spirit in my life I see, you are God who walks with me.”