The answer to this question I received long ago. I was 14 back then, during the 1998 World Cup in France. We were watching a tense game at a summer camp, and just as Brazil missed a goal one of the teens asked the camp director: “Are we allowed to pray for Brazil?” His response: “I’ve been praying from minute one!”
Turns out the honorable Church of England (hey, their clergy get to have mysterious names like rector, canon, metropolitan, prebendary, primus, postulant… I want a fancy title too!) agrees with my camp director. It has even issued five official prayers for the 2014 World Cup. TIME magazine has reported that Rt. Rev. Nick Baines (two titles!), Bishop of Leeds and Liverpool fan, wrote approved prayers for the cheering faithful.
My favorite of the five is the shortest prayer, the prayer for the England soccer team: “Oh God…” That’s just brilliant. Rev. Baines is a Brit after all. What else could we pray? Any predilection for our own team seems partial or partisan. What about the African team we’re playing against, is God to work against their fun? Doesn’t God love every nation? An elaborate, abstract prayer feels out of place, while no prayer at all feels godless. But “Oh God…” You can’t beat that.
The first approved prayer grabbed my eye too. It’s a prayer for the World Cup itself:
Lord of all the nations, who played the cosmos into being, guide, guard and protect all who work or play in the World Cup. May all find in this competition a source of celebration, an experience of common humanity and a growing attitude of generous sportsmanship to others. Amen.
I liked the way this prayer helps us look at the games but also see beyond them. We are to treasure the sport and engage in its action but in a way that treasures what is more valuable still, “an experience of common humanity”, a generous attitude toward others. The God “who played the cosmos into being” delights himself in the World Cup but delights in higher things still. It’s a prayer that values the sport as an exercise of spiritual formation: an experience of joy, a school of camaraderie, a foretaste of the colors and bliss and games of Heaven.
My dear Brazil plays tonight, against Cameroon. Poor them, they don’t have a chance against Brazil. But they do have a chance to address the same God I do. “Oh God…” be for them too.