I was a bit of a cynic as far as the Olympic Games are concerned. I had no real interest in many sports, although I have played hockey and was actively involved in Athletics and distance running in my younger days. But, in general, sport left me cold. This disinterest is shared by my spouse, and we had a bit of a down on the Olympics, because living in Outer London means that we’ve been paying for it through our Council tax. London residents are required to fund a £1 billion contribution to offsett the costs. One elderly couple felt so strongly about it they faced prison for failing to pay. While we disliked the costs involved, we paid up.
However, as the Olympics approached, we faced further disruption to our daily routine, to travel and not even being offered any sort of preference in access arrangements, given that we’ve paid partly for it. Once the tickets went on sale, we found ourselves priced out of even the cheapest seats, unless we were prepared to be put into debt by paying by credit card. To us, that was the final straw and we became even more cynical about all the hype attached to it.
We decided to watch the opening ceremony, perhaps out of curiosity, perhaps because of proximity (after all, it’s taking place 12 miles north of us across the Thames) and something happened.
Danny Boyle put on something which resembled nothing like any we’d seen before (and I must admit there’s been a few given our respective maturity) and certainly, nothing like we imagined it would be and something which just seemed to resonate with us both, powerfully and spiritually. From the opening hymn, Jerusalem to the singing of Abide with Me, the whole event was to us both, and expression of something greater than both of us.
Somehow, subtly, in the performance Danny Boyle had included a message which was profoundly religious in significance. It spoke of history, tradition, science, war and peace and a whole host of other things. But ultimately, it spoke to the nature of our humanity and our reliance on something greater than ourselves. The God of hope and love who is in us, with us, who suffers alongside us, and who ultimately heals us. I was effected emotionally and stirred into feelings that I didn’t immediately recognise as pride? Pride in being British, pride in terms on non-nationalistic patriotism. Something that I had been quite cynical about, given the bad name given to it by right wing groups.
It also moved me virtually to tears, particularly the commemoration of those lost during the first world war. Having been a soldier and experienced loss during that time, as well as losing family members in both great wars. A particular poingant aspect of this was my involvement in looking after the family of a fatal casualty in Afghanistan, in 2008. This event caused a Damascus Road experience, which brought be back to belief in Jesus Christ and the ongoing journey of faith that I am now on.
What’s the meaning of all of this?
Firstly, on Twitter during the evening, I shared and received many tweets of people who were also sharing similar emotional and spiritual uplift with us. Later, I saw and read many articles which compared the opening ceremony to a religious, even liturgical experience. I noticed that on the night, Danny Boyle went from about 15000 followers to about 45000 during the length of the ceremony. Social Media power.
An unfortunate MP, Andrew Burley, who made disparaging comments about the ceremony via Twitter was blasted from all sides by those who disagreed with him, both on Twitter and through mainstream media. He subsequently tried to back pedal in the face of criticism from his own party leaders and fellow MP’s. What probably astonished him was that his comments trended worldwide within minutes. This points towards the power of digital media and instant communications. Once it’s out there, its always there. Perhaps a lesson in morality for all of us to be careful in what we think or say aloud, because it will either draw approval or as in this case, severe disapproval and censure.
The media reaction was mixed. International media seemed not to understand some of the References, however most approved. National media was again mixed, although the majority were supportive of the context.
The blogosphere (at least those parts that I follow) seem enraptured by it.:
Vicky Beeching commented:
“I really enjoyed it and found it very moving. However, for me the experience was as much about engaging with Twitter as it was about watching the TV”. Which reflects my own experience.
The Dean of Durham commented:
“In this complex, richly textured offering, what about the spirituality of the British? Here again, my expectations of a completely secular ceremony with religion airbrushed out were surprised. The lone chorister singing ‘Jerusalem’ at the start (an echo of ‘Once in Royal’ at the beginning of the Nine Lessons and Carols?) seemed to announce a spiritual dimension to the evening”.
Edward Green commented:
“It was profoundly religious, not only in celebrating the NHS following St. James’ definition of ‘helping widows and orphans in their distress’, but in the explicit use of hymnody, silence, reflection and celebration. It did so with confidence, there was little of the typical British reserve, hand wringing or embarrassment”.
So, was it a religious experience?
Personally, I found it to be so, and others via Twitter, the blogosphere or media have commented that they felt at the least, it had an intentional religious significance.
Danny Boyle, on the rear page of the programme for the Opening Ceremony seems to confirm this by saying that the ceremony was about ‘Britian finding out who it is” with it’s religious, spiritual, scientific and industrial heritage. Given that culturally and legally the country is built on Christian ethical foundations, that seems to point towards his intention to include a religious/spiritual aspect within the service. Something which came across strongly to me.
I can only say that for me it was a rich, spiritual, emotional and profoundly religious experience. I’m sure that others will disagree. But for me, the religious outweighed the secular.