Here’s one from hockey enthusiast, our friend, Scott Dalton.
If you’ve been paying much attention this season to ESPN’s commentary on the NHL, this article may have caught you off guard.
In the seemingly endless stream of ESPN’s NHL news, there sits an article written by John Buccigross that attempts to tap into the spirituality of one of America’s most violent sports: hockey.
With striking and overt spiritual imagery, Buccigross draws parallels to Catholic confession and an endless cycle of “rinse and repeat” justification he experienced in high school. He credits hockey for a feeling of renewal.
For Buccigross the Zamboni has been a treasured metaphor for confession. He writes:
Watching a Zamboni (is there a better word?) slowly circle the ice has always been a metaphor of confession for me. A spiritual, gas-powered act of contrition. A Gregorian chant echoes in my mind as I watch 20 minutes of ice shavings accumulating into snow erased into new glass. Renewal. A frozen baptism and a washing away of sins and imperfections that a period of hockey and a period of life can bring.
Having played hockey for somewhere in the range of a decade and a half, I have to ask myself if Buccigross is on to something here.
I can easily call to the forefront of my mind the exhilarating feeling of the first cut of a hockey blade into newly re-surfaced ice. In fact, I skated just several weeks ago on the ice I grew up playing on in Nashville, TN. I can sympathize with Buccigross’ nostalgia.
There is something extraordinary about the speed and artfulness of hockey well played. It is like a symphony laced with virtuosity played in a lively allegro. To watch the puck bounce from stick-to-stick through a maze of players interrupted by frequent body-checks to the tune of bending plexiglass is, in my opinion, nothing short of art.
But does a clean sheet of ice really offer us a metaphor for confession, contrition, and forgiveness?
Buccigross writes before discussing his Zamboni image:
Walking out of confession with a clean soul made me feel lighter and faster during my high school years. Then, two days later, I’d slash Rocky Bragg in a fit of athletic passion during hockey and feel terrible again. Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat and lose the Lady Byng on the first shift. And then ask for forgiveness.
(Readers note: The Lady Byng is the trophy given to the NHL player who earns the least amount of penalty minutes in a season)
Although I disagree with Buccigross’ theology of self-justification through repentance (i.e. the “rinse-repeat” cycle closely linked with guilt and shame) and his ideas concerning baptism, I think he gives a small, albeit incomplete, picture of the gospel in the function of the Zamboni.
I can’t help but think of John 1:29 when John the Baptizer sees Jesus and cries out “Behold, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” and how it sheds light on the cleaning of ice from a multitude hockey skate cuts each period the game is played.
What makes the gospel better than a Zamboni is that the Zamboni simply covers up cuts and blemishes with a little water, cold air, and time. It’s as if grace is a substance that comes from a Zamboni and is meant to lather up and cover the cuts in the ice. The testimony of the four gospels and the rest of the New Testament is that grace didn’t come as a substance, and grace doesn’t simply cover up our cuts and wounds. Grace does much more than serve as a glossed-over corrective for the things we ought not have done and the things we have left undone.
Jesus himself came and experienced all the cuts we give to the ice in a given game (what Buccigross calls “a period of life”) and doesn’t simply cover them up, but makes them new. This is the costly grace of Jesus – that God saw our sins, mistakes, and self-self salvation strategies (which Luther said is the “default mode of the human heart”) and Jesus himself figured it well worth his while to take that on for those whom he loved.
Maybe Jesus isn’t so much like a Zamboni, but perhaps a fresh sheet of ice might serve as a reminder that “new” is how God views us in light of what Jesus has done.