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Then and now: a focus beyond gold medals

From the February 4, 2002 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel

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THE STAGE HAS BEEN SET IN MY HOMETOWN for the Olympics that runs from February 8-24. Park City, Utah, will host over 40 percent of the Alpine events. Organizers hustle to complete sound systems, build spectator stands, and scrutinize security efforts. Preparation is the activity of the day, which causes me to ask myself a question: What can I do to make sure the upcoming Olympics is successful? The answer: pray.

Prayer during the Olympic Games is not a new concept. Historically, when the Olympic Games in Greece began in 776 B.C., they were more than athletic contests. At the time, people worshiped Zeus as the supreme god, and the Games were held in his honor. People came to worship Zeus by offering small statues of pottery or bronze. Competitors and spectators enjoyed the Games held in his honor. Thus, Zeus was the central focus of the Games.

Today, Zeus is recognized as mythological, and the understanding that God is the one Spirit is nearly universal. But even in ancient times, St. Paul spoke to the Greeks about their misunderstanding of the nature of God. He stood in front of the council in Athens and said: "People of Athens, I see that you are very religious. As I was going through your city and looking at the things you worship, I found an altar with the words, 'To an Unknown God.' You worship this God, but you don't really know him. So I want to tell you about him. This God made the world and everything in it. He is Lord of heaven and earth, and he doesn't live in temples built by human hands" (Acts 17:22-24).

This year, 2,779 years after the first Olympic games, 82 countries will compete. In 2002, athletes and their families and fellow citizens from all these countries pray in diverse ways. God is called by different names. Yet most are praying to the one God, divine Spirit. My prayer is based on recognizing that God is entirely good, and that His goodness is a fact that we can expect to experience—to see, to recognize, everywhere. This goodness that is always present and surrounds us would never cause us to feel fear, insecurity, or apprehension about what lies ahead.

Since I'd like to contribute to the harmony and unity that the Olympics exemplify, I've been praying each day. I want to understand more fully that the Games are not just athletic competitions, but can be seen as a spiritual celebration. The harmony and cooperation among athletes and nations hint at God's excellence and goodness.

Athletes excel by exhibiting spiritual qualities such as strength, grace, and stamina. These are from God. Looking back to the Greek ideals of beauty, sportsmanship, and individual achievement that launched the Games, it seems clear that these are actually spiritual—they are traits that come directly from Spirit and are eternal. That's why they're so timeless. The founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, summarized the broader ideal of the Olympics, which goes beyond individual competition: "To create international friendship and goodwill that would lead to a happier and more peaceful world."

By focusing on God today, you and I can help provide a more secure environment for the Olympic Games. Our prayers are powerful and can be so effective in diffusing fear of terrorism and quelling uncertainty about personal safety, whether we're viewing the Olympics in the mountains or right at home.

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