Serving for glory

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Murray winning US Open

Though some of my colleagues complain that tennis is a toffs’ game, I really enjoy watching some of the major championships and was delighted when Andy Murray won at Wimbledon at the weekend. I said at the start of last year that I thought 2012 could be his year, and with winning the Olympic Gold and his first Grand Slam at the US Open, you could say it was. But winning Wimbledon might be the thing that actually gets him BBC Sports Personality of the Year, since there’s not quite so much competition in 2013. In the past some people have made jokes about his lack of personality but I find his downbeat Scottish attitude rather likeable. I think @AllyFogg put it brilliantly when he tweeted:

Baffles me when ppl call Andy Murray “dour”. He’s from central Scotland. We consider him dangerously flamboyant, talkative and over-emotional.

He seems to have quite a way with reporters, even though they don’t all appreciate him. I liked his response when asked what he thought Fred Perry would say to him:

Why aren’t you wearing my kit?

which led me to wonder whether Fred Perry might be wearing Andy’s kit now. I was also impressed at the way he refused to talk about any engagement plans with a TV journalist saying he’d only known the interviewer ten minutes.

IMG_2021He did very well to win the Men’s Singles title although I’ve been one of those quite sensitive to any mentions of him being the first British Wimbledon Champion in 77 years, carelessly disregarding the achievement of Virginia Wade in 1977 or doubles players much more recently. The sexism displayed here and in some of the comments about Marion Bartoli has angered many and it is frustrating that in 2013 women are still more readily noted or valued for their appearance rather than their achievements.

My maternal grandmother was born less than eight miles from the All England Lawn Tennis Club Grounds at Wimbledon. She was born in 1924, two years after the club moved to its current location on Church Road. It’s possible she witnessed Fred Perry’s victories in 1934, 35 or 36 although as a not quite teenager this seems unlikely. I watched some of the third round matches in her room at the nursing home the Friday before last and described a little to her although it was unclear if she could hear me. Later we moved to the hospital and I caught a little of Murray’s match while she was in x-ray. I told her it looked like he was doing well, chatting about the tennis as well as other attempts to be reassuring and comforting. Less than a week later she died peacefully in the hospital, and reached glory before Mr Murray’s efforts were finally rewarded this weekend.

I know she liked tennis although she wasn’t particularly sporty herself – childhood certificatesIMG_2027 natural recognise talents in drawing and knitting and later first aid. A letter from her headteacher mentions how her success at school “was largely down to her tenacity of purpose and common sense”. Her training in first aid and then as a hospital almoner (early social worker) are perhaps early indicators of her strong ethic of service to others, which I see so strongly in her daughter, my Mum. She worked as an almoner for some time before marrying and having children, after which her service was mostly home-based. Skipping forward to my own memories of her, I remember some wonderful cooking including my favourite cheese scones and the way she and my grandfather both supported older people in their neighbourhood, offering lifts through a local scheme and helping with other groups and activities.

These other kinds of service don’t get the reward or recognition of famous tennis players but they do reflect something of the character of Jesus, who although he was God, didn’t cling on to this status or lord it over people but instead was humble and served others, washing his disciples’ feet and later dying for them. Paul writes how Jesus:

“did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2 v 6b-9)

Perhaps there are some loose parallels with the struggles of a tennis career, set-backs, long battles, press mocking and intrusion and exhaustion, but the rewards of glory and a place in history. But Jesus’ victory goes much further, offering hope of glory to all who will share it with him and I’m glad to believe my grandmother is now in that glorious heaven – not because of her acts of service or greatness but because of Jesus’ free gift of eternal life. I don’t share some of my Catholic colleagues’ beliefs in praying to the saints or asking our loved ones to intervene or intercede for us. But if Grannie put in a good word for Andy Murray then God bless her. God bless her anyway. And God bless you.

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