Call this a mulligan, because I’m taking another swing at the last week’s column topic, “The Spirit of Golf” retreat at the Franciscan Spirituality Center in La Crosse.
Nobody is forcing me to tee it up again, if you’re thinking that the FSC levied a penalty stroke for being irreverently out of bounds with quips. Or that retreat leader Steve Spilde thought I needed a dunking in a water hazard for insinuating that he uses rough language when his ball lands in the rough — or worse — even though I didn’t mention him by name (except for hints) and had no proof (other than his own confession in advance).
However, I yapped on too long with self-congratulatory cleverness for much of the column. That is the rabbit hole of column writing, when he invests so much of his ego that he can’t think of a single word to cut.
So, by the time I was ready to shift from the all-about-me-and-ain’t-I-witty secondary theme, the column was too long to do some additional reflecting on the topic, as we had done during the overnight retreat and game of golf.
Spilde built much of the retreat around the book “Golf and the Spirit: Lessons for the Journey,” which M. Scott Peck wrote as a reflection that combined his life’s work in psychiatry and counseling and his affection for the so-called game of kings.
“Golf and the Spirit,” Peck’s penultimate book, published in 1999, was not nearly as popular or as big of a seller as his first book in 1978, the wildly popular, “The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth.” But perhaps that underscores the theme — not many golfers achieve grand slams on the course, either.
“Golf and the Spirit” recycles some points from “The Road Less Traveled,” such as the observation in “Golf” that “Golf mimics life. Golf is difficult.” That echoes the thought in “The Road” that “Life is difficult.”
Not that they mean the same thing: Peck notes that understanding the fact that life is difficult makes it less so, while understanding the fact that golf is hard does little to turn an 18-handicapper into a scratch golfer.
I’ve never tried a sign of the cross on the golf course, because it doesn’t seem to work most of the time in baseball and basketball. On the other hand, it might be worth a try in a bunker because, even though Satan himself designed bunkers, God knows how many grains of sand are in each and how many grains you have to move to escape the trap.
Spilde’s inspirations for leading the retreat were his love of both — spirituality and golf. He is the first to acknowledge successes and failures in each, as most of us should and do. (The possible exception to that is our Golfer-in-Chief, but that’s a whole other column about his claiming others’ successes as his own and never acknowledging failure and/or apologizing — not to mention his creative scoring.)
As much as anything, Spilde connected an appreciation of nature with elements of spirituality and the fact that golf’s venues offer abundant chances to connect with God, whatever that means to you, or at least relax and enjoy creation between shots. (Oftentimes, in spite of shots.)
Similarly, Peck borrowed an observation of William James for his definition of spirituality as “the attempt to be in harmony with an unseen order of things.”
The same might be applied to the basics of golf, in a warped way that can turn an easy birdie into a triple bogey if one misses the unseen undulations of a green.
Peck’s wisdom often mixes the sacred with the more sacred, with a bit of bawdy judgment, such as: “The terrain of a beautiful woman’s body will eventually stale. Not so with a great golf course; its topography can continue to intrigue and delight the golfer for a lifetime.”
To be fair to the fairer sex, I might suggest that the terrain of a young golfer’s body eventually will develop different terrain, with rolling mounds where there had been tight, rippling hills and valleys, doglegs where there had been straight, open fairways and obstructed views in which seeing the ball can be a challenge.
Oddly enough, Peck was a late-comer to the game of golf, writing, “It wasn’t until I was well over 50 that I began to envision golf as a spiritual discipline — meaning an opportunity to learn all the things involved in doing it well. Mostly the things I had to learn were things about myself: about my temperament, my personality, and the hundreds of roadblocks I put in my own way as I lived life as well as golf.”
OMG, there could be hope for me. I’m well over 50, and the retreat gave me a few more tools for my bag.
I’m trying to take time to admire the glory of nature during schedule delays or changes for one reason or another when I previously might have just chafed at the bit.
I’m attempting to set aside some time for reflection after completing an assignment or a chore instead of just leaping to the next one.
I suspect that I’ll be better at keeping my head down for reflection than during a shot.