Death & Baseball

Modified on: October 9, 2019

“The Lords of Death were amazed and frantic at what the two brothers, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, could do. ‘Do us!’ the Lords shouted. ‘Kill us, and bring us back to life.’ The two brothers answered, ‘You brought us here to entertain you, your Lords, so we will do it.’ They then killed the Lords of Death, but Hunahpu and Xbalanque did not bring them back to life.” (from the Popol Vuh, sacred text of the Quiché Maya)

In his Pensées, Blaise Pascal lamented the playing of games as a worthless distraction from the seriousness of life. He saw it as a waste of time. But the ancient Maya saw something different.

In their sacred game of ball, the Maya perceived a metaphor for life. And they told stories of two heroes, the twin brothers Hunahpu and Xbalanque, who were challenged to play ball with the very Lords of Death themselves.

Even when they lose, the boys win. With cunning and playfulness, they outwit the Lords of Death. The story of the boys’ victory became the creation myth of the Maya people. When they outsmarted the rulers of the Underworld, the two heroes set their nation in right relationship with the sun and the moon, the earth and the animals, the corn and squash and all that fed them.

In a story from our own culture, baseball players from the past gather in a cornfield in Iowa to play an eternal game of ball. Day after day, they emerge to play again. And they invite the living to join them. The competition in Field of Dreams is fierce and joyful, with the beauty of the game reshaping the lives of each person who chooses to play, whether they are living or dead. When they play, they become their better selves.

Life is serious—and it can be serious fun. When we play with one another, we create a world of right relationship. Our world fills with laughter. And the skills we develop—skills of dexterity, of cleverness, of teamwork, of love—these skills can outwit whatever Lords may mean us ill, in this life or any other.

Play ball.

— Scott

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