Rabbinic Reflections: God’s Eagles

"I am a rabbi and a person of faith. But God has nothing to do with this," wrote a friend of mine in response to many Eagles' players attributing the Super Bowl LII victory to God. I have had this conversation about God and sports before but let us face it, the Eagles winning the Lombardi trophy is different. No, God does not have a favorite NFL team; no, God does not take our prayers for victory and weigh them against Patriot fans' prayers for victory; and no, God did not call the Philly Special. God was at the Super Bowl, though.

God was in the game, not the score. For those of us who spend most of our daily lives feeling like God is distant, ephemeral, or even absent, it is a rare experience to feel the divine presence even just as inspiration. This Eagles team and this fan base were powerfully united in their hopes and hunger for victory. That kind of togetherness became a secular version of a holy assembly in which God's Presence becomes imminent. Our desire for victory was a communal prayer not about any one of us, but rather about all of us and by implication about what we all share. In contrast to daily life, we may have felt God's Presence precisely because we were connecting to what unites us and in doing so may have found the divine in all of us.

God was in the efforts, not the results. For those of us who draw on our relationship to God for personal strength, God was equally with players on both sides who were pushing themselves to be their best. An intimate God does not show up just for a big catch, a big tackle, or a big play; an intimate God shows up for every practice, every workout, and every down. Winning athletes get more airtime so we hear their gratitude to God, but that gratitude is for all the moments that led up to the moment.

God was there even if for those of us who do not believe in God. God was there for the believers and the doubters: did the Eagles really make it to the Super Bowl without Carson Wentz? The Eagles were the underdog David to the Patriots' Goliath; Nick Foles' ascendance was straight out of the Book of Judges. Doug Pederson's relentlessness was like Moses facing Pharoah or Elijah facing the prophets of Baal. Eagles and their wings are mentioned in the Bible dozens of times. Even without all the biblical drama, Super Bowl LII was great football.

It's too easy for the championship team to call out God. The reality is that in today's world, where theology is more often private, where God-talk is generationally shifting to spirituality, and where gratitude is more attitude than practice, mentioning God in connection to a sporting victory is often artless. There are deep reasons to thank God for it all. The losing team also had great moments for which I am sure they are grateful. We need more expressions of gratitude to each other and to a higher power to appreciate that gratitude is not a winner's exclusive. The Eagles' championship is worthy of gratitude from everyone who has been counted out, who has hungered for deliverance, or who has put in the time to appreciate the whole journey. May we all be carried on Eagles' wings and be a little more grateful for the game, not the score; for the effort, not the result; and for the journey, not the trophy. Fly, Eagles, fly!

** The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ownership or management of Chadds Ford Live. We welcome opposing viewpoints. Readers may comment in the comments section, or they may submit a Letter to the Editor to editor@chaddsfordlive.com

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About Rabbi Jeremy Winaker

Rabbi Jeremy Winaker is the head of school at the Albert Einstein Academy in Wilmington. Prior to that he was the senior Jewish educator at the Kristol Hillel Center at the University of Delaware for four years and he served as the rabbi for Bet Torah in Mt. Kisco, N.Y. and Adas Israel in Washington, D.C. He’s also one of several rabbis taking part in a radio show, The Rabbi Speaks, on WDEL. Rabbi Winaker lives in Delaware with his wife and three children.

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