December 9, 2023

I am not sure if it was in honor of this icy winter or if it was just something I found oddly lacking in my life, but it occurred to me a few months ago, that in 53 years I had never seen a hockey game. I had never been to one, or even seen one on television.

I come from a hockey city, but somehow the decades went by and I just never experienced it. So a few months ago, I decided to fill this gap, and I called Father Barry Reuwsaat and asked if he wanted to go to an Aberdeen Wings game and he said yes and the next day someone offered me free tickets and I took all this as a sign from God that I was meant to go.

The night before I went to my first hockey game, I spent some time on the internet getting to know what the game was all about. I knew the most basic aspects of it; it was played on ice, the players skated and they needed to make a goal to score a point. All in all, pretty rudimentary; so I learned a bit more about the lines and the penalty box and whether or not fighting was good for the game.

Then I asked Fr. Barry if it was going to be cold, and he assured me I might want to wear a coat and hat. We drove to the Odde Ice Center and found our chilly metal seats and the game began.

It was fantastic. I really didn’t know what to expect, and so the whole experience was new and exciting. I was lost in the cheering and the cowbells, the wild music and the screaming siren when the Wings scored a goal, and the people around me simply having fun.

It only took me about three minutes to become an Aberdeen Wings fan, and a hockey fan as well. At that first game, I didn’t spend a great deal of time learning about strategy or the finesse of the game, I mostly just sat in awe of the players. I was trying to figure out how they could do what they do.

I watched these young men, on both teams, tear from one end of the rink to the other, forwards, backwards, rushing the puck, plowing into each other, challenging each other in a large group around the goal, and all on skates, all on ice. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be able to do all that on skates.

I would mostly likely not even be able to stand on skates, must less perform the athletic feats these young men performed with such ease, such grace and skill. In addition, it was obvious within a few seconds of watching, that they were having a lot of fun doing what they were doing. They were playing hockey, hanging with their friends and part of a team; and they are the perfect age to be chasing their dream like it was a puck skidding across the ice.

Because they are good players, having fun and enjoying the support of the crowd, they are easy to cheer for; and because they are young and challenging life, it is easy to hope they succeed.

And because they are so gracefully athletic on the ice, they became for me Lenten prophets who skated by me, demanding that I learn, in my own way, to do what they do.

As I’ve made my way over ice-covered lands these last weeks, and watched the Aberdeen Wings skate to victory, I have thought of the words of Robert Frost:

Some say the world will end in fire,
some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
and would suffice.

Frost uses the perfect metaphor of ice to express the way casual cruelty and hatred can fill our world and our society, can encase our hearts; the fear that ices our minds and souls. How we deal with that ice depends on us. We can allow ourselves to be captured by it, slowly, as ice traps all in its path; that can be the nature of hatred and fear, it can grow so slowly that we scarce notice how it is affecting us.

We can also fall, breaking ourselves on the ice, wounded and in pain, we grow bereft of hope, of love.

Or, we can have the grace, the athletic subtlety to transcend, to glide over the ice that can seem to envelope everything around us. We are neither wounded by it, nor do we give in to it. To find this ability again, and again, is the Lenten challenge, to be, as St. Paul reminds us each Ash Wednesday, “ambassadors for Christ.”

The choice is hard, it takes effort, it takes thoughtfulness, it takes humility and strength and the desire to be transformed. The fear is great around us, the ice strong, but we wear the ashes that say we wish to rise above, and the skates that say we can.

In this hockey game, we already know who wins.

As the Second Eucharistic Prayer for Reconciliation teaches us: “By your Spirit you move human hearts that enemies may speak to each other again, adversaries may join hands, and peoples seek to meet together. By the working of your power it comes about, O Lord, that hatred is overcome by love, revenge gives way to forgiveness, and discord is changed to mutual respect.”