Feel the Glory

Nights of unprecedented British summer heat might not have been conducive to sleep, but they have made it more appealing to get up and watch the World Athletics Championships from the west coast of America in ‘track town’: Eugene, Oregon. While watching or catching up on the competition, I have found myself thinking about three words which appear all around the stadium: ‘feel the glory’. I have, however, managed to find out precious little about the story behind these words, apart from the fact that they are the motto of this year’s championships.

I imagine that some athletes have felt a degree of glory. The two most sweltering nights in the UK fortuitously(?) fell on the evenings of the two 1500m finals where Laura Muir (sadly no relation) and Jake Wightman excelled and brought home a bronze and gold medal respectively. If standing on a podium after a perfectly executed race is not what the organisers had in mind when they devised the slogan, I’m not sure what is!

I suspect, however, that many athletes might have struggled to feel the glory. Many of the British athletes who have bravely climbed the stairs medal-less or eliminated following their competition have understandably appeared dejected in the interviews. Maybe they felt the weight of expectation, the despair of underperforming, the lingering effects of Covid, or just the lactic acid.

From a British perspective, Dina Asher-Smith perhaps best illustrates these different feelings of glory or lack thereof. After the 100m final where, to my mind, she ran brilliantly to improve on her own national record, she was evidently upset not to achieve a medal – just missing out in 4th. After the 200m final, however, where she ran another excellent race and this time achieved a richly deserved bronze medal, she was clearly delighted. She was also able to joke with the Jamaican runners who had just beaten her, and to share powerfully something of her personal story of the season. She was surely feeling a degree of glory.

While these medal-winning performances maybe capture the essence of feeling the glory, I still admit to some degree of puzzlement at the phrase. It occurred to me though that all the boards displaying ‘feel the glory’ might not only be directed towards the athletes but towards the spectators gazing on the most talented athletes in the world. For the theologically inclined among us, glory is an important concept. It struck me that glory in biblical texts is primarily associated with seeing rather than feeling. Figures like Moses see something of the glory of the divine which, in turn, produces transformation (see especially Exodus 33–34; 2 Corinthians 3); but it is perhaps harder to say that they feel glory as such.

The motifs of sight and glory are particularly important in the Gospel of John. Towards the end of its famous prologue, the writer of the gospel describes the glory of the word, Jesus Christ:

‘The word became flesh and dwelled among us: we gazed upon his glory, a glory like that of an only-begotten from a father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14, AT).

John, along with others who saw the word made flesh, saw the glory of Jesus, a glory derived from his status as the only-begotten son of God the Father. For John, seeing this glory translated into feeling a degree of this glory; I don’t think it’s overstating the matter to say that such depth of feeling inspired this passage. At the end of the prologue, John expands on the depth of feeling and relationship between Jesus and the Father, into which believers are invited:

‘No-one has ever seen God; but the only-begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, that one [Jesus] has revealed him’ (John 1:18, AT).

It remains the case today that no living person has seen God apart from Jesus, since he is God – amazingly and mysteriously connected to the Father, yet distinct from the Father. Jesus enabled us to see the glory of God. The language of being ‘in the bosom of the Father’ is remarkably intimate and relational: yet Jesus also temporarily left his Father, so that we too might once again see, feel, and not be without the glory of God.

Where does this leave us in terms of thinking about feeling the glory in Oregon in 2022? Initially, I was sceptical about the expression and even joked that it sounded like the theme for a highly charismatic Christian conference. Yet as I have thought about it with the help of John’s Gospel, I am more convinced that glory is not only something to be seen, but to be felt as well.[1] When seen, athletic ability – which I believe comes from God – can also be felt as something glorious within creation. Obviously not all performances in Eugene can win medals, but all who give what they can on the day can feel a degree of glory, in which spectators can also share.

Of course, Jake Wightman’s gold medal will go down in history not only for being the first British 1500m medal at a World Championships since 1983, but also because his father, Geoff, commentated in the stadium on the feat. Geoff, the father and coach, must have felt a special weight of glory. Steve Cram, commentating on the TV, indicated that his feelings were understandably such that he was not able to speak for a few minutes after Jake’s victory.

At the start of another account of Jesus’ life, the Gospel of Mark, when Jesus begins his earthly ministry by being baptised, his father’s voice comes from an even greater height than the commentary box, namely heaven, to say: ‘You are my beloved son, in you I have delighted’ (Mark 1:11).

Here are a father and a son who, as the passages from John show, are even more closely connected than Geoff and Jake, who constantly display glory that can be seen and felt by all the world, even in a delayed World Athletics Championships in Eugene in 2022.

In truth, I still don’t know why ‘feel the glory’ is the motto of these World Championships, but there’s something of what it means for me. What does it mean for you?

[1] While the ancient Stoics took a negative view of doxa – the usual Greek word designating ‘glory’ in the New Testament – as a ‘false opinion’, I suspect the writers of the New Testament used the term in a more positive sense, but I have yet to study this seriously.


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