Bowling bumpers and beatitude

There’s something hilarious about watching young kids and pre-teens bowl. The funky shoes go on, the digital screens display their nicknames, and the bumpers come up. On a muggy spring night I watched a group of fifty kids (including 3 of mine), ranging from 7 – 15 years old, hurling the balls at a group of unsuspecting pins. One child waddled up to the foul line (which inevitably gets turned off by the attendant five minutes in due to all the noise) and gently pushed the ball down the alleyway. It took about two minutes to go the length of the floor, and awkwardly pushed one of the pins over. Another ran up to the line, stopped, and with two hands, flung the ball down the alley from between his legs. A third spun around in circles until she released the ball, sending it ricocheting off of the bumpers and landing her a strike. This kept up for a half hour before things got really interesting: Disco bowling started. The lights went off, socks and shirt lint started glowing in the black lights, and House of Pain’s “Jump Around” screeched in the background. Bowling scores got lower.

Through all of the chaos that ensued, one thing was certain. No matter how awkwardly and carelessly the kids threw the ball, it always got towards its goal – knocking over at least one pin, generally. This was due to the bumpers, which had appeared out of the sides of the alley like a magic genie. The certainty with which the ball was guided to its goal by the bumpers reminded me of the need in our world for virtues.

Like the bumpers, virtues point towards our aim which is being like Christ, and our actions are less likely to always end up in the proverbial ‘gutter’. Virtues are good, deep-rooted habits in our soul. There are many kinds of virtues, some are gained from repeatedly acting well – summed up as: prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. Others are infused into us by God at our Baptism: i.e. faith, hope, and charity. In making choices we can ask: is this a good choice? Will it lead me closer to Christ (beatitude)? Virtues are geared to help us to make good choices more easily, readily, and enjoyably. Their effect in us is not that we WILL choose well, but that we are more inclined to do so. With bowling, I’ve seen some of the kids intentionally bounce their bowling balls over the bumpers to get them into the gutters (sometimes proudly skipping three lanes). This is also true of virtues. Indulging in vices (the opposite of virtue) can override the help that God gives us through virtue. It’s an incredible lens through which to make important decisions in our lives.

Back to the disco bowlers. Over the years, my little ones have had to use the bumpers. That night the bumpers went up, but they did very well without them. They have become attuned to the action of rolling the ball down the middle of the lane, only every once in awhile getting a little bumper help. Likewise, all of us were designed so that every fibre of our being can become finely tuned to Christ’s life through virtuous living. As we work on virtue, we more easily, readily, and joyfully live out the Christian life.

by Scott Roy


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