Olympic health

The Olympics usually inspire me to run. This year’s Olympics has inspired me to think. Why have they grown so big in thought, in financing, and in global participation? Even Muslim women are competing this year. (See this article.) Perhaps the Olympics are more important than simple sports activity. There is some serious history here.

When the ancient Olympia games started some 2788 years ago, a national truce – ekcheiria – was observed throughout Greece. Athletes and spectators were allowed to travel in safety and to celebrate the Greek religious festival with which the Olympic games were closely connected. These truces provided a common basis for peace and national unity for the Greeks.

The first Olympics was a festival held in 776 B.C. and was dedicated to Zeus, the chief Greek god. A 200-meter footrace was held. Greeks gathered every four years for the next millennium in Olympia to honor Zeus through sports, sacrifices, and hymns. Wrestling, boxing, and horse racing were added to the Olympic roster. They complemented devotional sacrifices, hymns, celebrations, and visiting family.

This combination of Greek worship and sports led the Roman Christian Emperor Theodosius to ban the Olympics in 393 A.D. Modern Olympics revived some rituals as seen in the Olympic oath, the procession of athletes, and the lighting of the flame. In London at the 1908 games, Anglican Bishop Ethelbert Talbot declared, “The most important thing in these Olympics is not so much winning as taking part” — which has become part of the Olympic creed. He followed in the footsteps of the Reverend Henri Didon, a Catholic priest who penned the official Olympic motto “citius, altius, fortius” – faster, higher, stronger.

The founder of the modern Olympics, Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin, restored the Olympic Games in Athens in 1896 after excavations at Olympia renewed public interest in the Olympics. Coubertin had other national reasons of peace and brotherhood, yet he wrote: “The first essential characteristic of the Olympics, both ancient as well as modern, is to be a religion.” His motive was to glorify God. He was educated by Jesuits and influenced by muscular Christianity. Muscular Christianity shaped the modern programs of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and its devotees used sports to strengthen their faith. Today, muscular Christianity inspires professional athletes such as Tim Tebow.

Athletic exercise is a wholesome activity that glorifies God when done for the right reasons. Even the Bible declares, “For bodily exercise profits for a little while: but godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” (I Tim. 4:8) And, “whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Cor. 10:31)

I’ve been associated with athletics since running track and cross-country in high school. My exercise isn’t done for health reasons, but for joyful sports participation. Bible study and prayer help to keep me from being obsessed with exercise and it is these things and not the exercise that give me health. And I’ll tell you why.

Health comes from something more spiritual than exercise or matter-based thinking. It comes from understanding one God, infinite Spirit. Jesus taught, “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63)

God is the source of strength and health, whether or not we believe in the one God – who is divine Mind – that Moses, Jesus and others have proclaimed. It’s not simply matter muscles that give us strength. There’s thought behind muscles. And it’s more than mind over matter. It’s divine Mind, God, over matter. (Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, p. 199) In previous blog posts you can find some examples of spiritual healings through this line of thinking and prayer.

New Hampshire has a special connection to this year’s Olympics. Concord High School graduate Guor (Majak) Marial came to the United States as a refugee from South Sudan. He literally ran for his life when he escaped the war-torn region and made his way to Concord. He is not yet a US citizen and year-old South Sudan republic has not qualified to field an Olympic team. But Guor qualified for the men’s marathon through discipline and hard work. The Concord High School graduate was selected by the International Olympic Committee to run the men’s marathon this Sunday.

Guor’s response, which can be found here, was: “If God gave me this talent and this education and I can be able to dedicate my life every single day to this kind of thing, one day God will give me the chance to support, to help my people, the people of South Sudan.” More stories about Guor’s inspired life story can be found here.

Guor isn’t the only athlete participating to glorify God. (For example, see this article and this article.) We can be grateful that a festival that began in ancient Greece to honor the god Zeus of mythology has today become an Olympian effort in which some athletes are conscientiously declaring their choice to glorify the one Almighty God through their participation. This is an attitude that should be encouraged.

George Reed is a former runner for Team New Balance, USA and still holds the outdoor one mile record at the University of New Hampshire, where he received a degree in mechanical engineering. He currently is a Christian Science practitioner, and the media and legislative spokesperson for Christian Scientists in New Hampshire.

2 responses to “Olympic health

  1. Virginia McCullough

    Thanks for this blog, including the history, George. It’s great that you can speak from experience as a runner.

  2. newhampshire@compub.org

    Thanks Virginia.

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