During many years as a sports announcer at The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Church Road, Wimbledon (as the place is properly named!), this week’s guest blogger, Kim Shippey, was joined at various times in the broadcast booth by such former champions as Chris Evert, Jimmy Connors, Fred Stolle, Frew McMillan, and Fred Perry (the last Briton to win a men’s singles title.) The championships run this year from June 25 to July 8.
Above all, I think it’s the spirit of Wimbledon that captures people’s minds and persuades them to stand in line for hours for buses, trains, and ground entrance passes. I believe that for 135 years Wimbledon has set the standard for player decorum—and its criteria are deeply and widely respected.
As I write, the best players in the world are jetting in. The strawberries will soon be available—if you can afford them. Summer rain showers are getting ready to tease the order of play. And some of us are thinking of the players’ locker-room sign inspired by Rudyard Kipling’s promise that the whole Earth belongs to those who “can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same.”
When I first saw that sign at Wimbledon, I was reminded of a line from a poem I love:
It matters not what be thy lot,
So Love doth guide;
For storm or shine, pure peace is thine,
-Mary Baker Eddy
Each June as the championships approach, I recall some of the players I’ve watched coping well with “storm” and “shine” (failure and success). Whether they had faith in God or not, what I saw was the controlling, calming influence of divine Love at work in an environment that brings enjoyment to over 35,000 spectators (plus millions of television viewers) each day for a fortnight.
I once asked the Australian who won three Wimbledon singles championships in five years, John Newcombe, what made Wimbledon one of the greatest sporting events on the calendar each year. His answer was simple: “Wimbledon is Wimbledon, just because it’s Wimbledon.” Not much to latch on to there. But I think Newcombe was saying that some institutions don’t need explaining–just as many of us wouldn’t feel the need to explain the presence and healing influence of God in our lives: “God is God, just because He’s God!”
Of course, Wimbledon itself is a thrilling place to be. It combines cutting-edge technology with the stability and maturity suggested by high ivy-clad walls. No one argues over dress codes or rules of engagement, simply because the tradition of good behavior fits so comfortably over Wimbledon’s manicured lawns. And this is reassuring, especially at a time when sports stars in general have never been more seriously challenged to keep their cool and stay free of drugs in arenas where many millions of dollars are at stake.
With today’s strong calls in the news media for regular exercise–in the interests of heart and lung health, in countering obesity, building and toning muscles, and reducing stress (and the early onset of Alzheimer’s)–I’d suggest that rather than taking our exercise by walking to and from the TV set during the Wimbledon fortnight, we get into spiritual shape through focused prayer and through the spiritual disciplines taught and practiced by Christ Jesus in the New Testament.
After all, Jesus took time off between “sets” to be alone and quietly commune with his heavenly Father–to ground himself in the knowledge of the presence of God in every situation, which enabled him to be the victor in countless matches against sin, disease, and even death. He said we could do it, too. Right?