The Canucks won last night: game seven, in overtime. Those of you who are not Canadian may not know what a big deal it is for your local NHL team to win a big game. I knew this was a big game, so I decided to go out and watch it.
Bonnie and I have this compromise about watching sporting events. Since I have a sports-watching addiction that I always have to keep an eye on, Bonnie has asked that we not keep a TV in the house (wise woman). In exchange, I get to use the money we save on cable to go to a local pub and watch an occasional Big Game and enjoy a pint (or two) of ale. Last night Bonnie and I went together to a new place to watch the game and sample their house ale.
The place was packed with fans all wearing Canucks jerseys and waving white towels. Clearly they came for the game, but I think the half-priced pints helped pack the place too--just a guess.
I get a little emotional, sometimes, watching sports--football is my favourite, but over the last eight years in Canada I've learned to appreciate hockey too. I have even been known to yell at a television. Nevertheless, Bonnie and I were not prepared for what we saw last night. Did you know the word "fan" comes from "fanatic"? They were singing, they were shouting, they were chanting. It was almost like a religious experience (of an old fashioned, chandellier-swinging, Pentecostal variety). The nearest thing to it I have ever experienced was at a Texas Tech home game: religious intensity of a more Baptist tenor, but just as sincere.
What surprised us most was what happened when the Canucks' Alex Burrows scored in sudden-death overtime. It was not the screaming, jumping, hugging or dancing on the bar. What surprised us is that although we were completely ignored for the whole game (sitting in a back corner and wearing nothing Canuck), once the game was over, complete strangers (who had been hugging and high-fiving each other) came up to our table and wanted to high-five us, shake our hands and I think would have hugged us too if we had stood up. The joy was palpable. It reminded us of Pascha--sort of.
To express the Joy of Pascha, the hymns of the Church encourage us to hug and kiss each other and to call everyone (even those who hate us) brother and sister. The Resurrection of Christ is celebrated with singing, shouting, hugging and kissing, and even (depending on the local custom) with tumblers of wine or vodka. Whee! Christ is risen!
And yet all of this outward joy is merely an attempt to give voice and action to a Joy that cannot be expressed. A Joy that would exist without the loud singing and without the hugging and kissing and even without the wine or vodka.
Perhaps that's why sports fans are so fanatical. Without the inexpressible Joy of the risen Christ dwelling in your heart, its hard to celebrate anything unless you work really hard at stirring up the emotions. A game seven overtime win is certainly emotional. Lots and lots of beer clears away any natural restraint that might get in the way of exuberant celebration. And there you have it: joy without the Joy.