“Baseball unites heaven and earth: it inscribes a pattern of clean lines, orbs, and diamonds upon the dust from which we were formed and in which we toil, and the lush green in which we find rest. Upon that heaven-and-earth field, prodigal sons set out on barren base paths; and we watch and wait to see if they will make it back home.” –David Mitchel1
Something there is in the Creator that doesn’t love a straight line. He framed boughs of trees with crooks and angles. He crafted winding rivers and undulating landscapes. His cathedrals are formed in groves of trees, set out in imprecise circles and ovals, branches bumping into one another overhead. His curves are not regular; His arcs are not clean.
We created beings find loveliness in these things, but when it comes to drawing our own lines or sketching our own arcs, there’s a certain satisfaction we discover in clean lines and perfect angles. The Greeks aligned their pillars in parallel formation. The Byzantines built their rounded domes. The Golden Mean was the Renaissance measure of beauty. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim spirals. Our most daring architecture is still perfectly curved, our tables level, the pickets of our fences parallel. While there is a piquant charm in the bow of a sagging ridgepole or the meandering lumps of a fence built of native stone, there is also great beauty in the straight lines of a highway in the desert or the perfect arc of a flying buttress.
It is baseball season once more, and spread before us are the clean lines and perfect angles of a ballpark. The lights are held high on steel grids. The seats wrap around in even furrows. The grass has stripes and measured designs in it. Perhaps there’s a bit of the faerie in the groundskeepers, for they manage to make magical things out of a broad field using only shades of green. At each corner stands tall a straight, yellow foul pole. And inside the quasi-geometric shape that is the field, there is an arc, a diamond, and – perfectly centered within it – a circular mound. The ballpark’s lines are straight, its curves measured.
Upon the stretch of tawny dust and verdant grass we lay out our white lines and square bags. The umpire brushes stray dirt from the white pentagon before him. In his hand he holds the white sphere wrapped in neat, red stitches. Ninety feet for each baseline, sixty from the pitcher’s mound to home plate. A nine inch circumference and one hundred and eight double stitches. We strive for perfection as we map all this out. We erect our foul poles in parallel formation. We draw the chalk in perpendicular lines and anchor the bags at right angles. We order the stripes on the grass in even checkers. We endeavor for faultlessness. And we call it good.
To make our straight lines, our measured curves, our perfect spheres, we humans are forced to use tools. We cannot do it without them. The architect must have his drafting table and his protractor, his straight edge and his T-square. The builder needs his level and his measuring tape. The groundskeeper needs his mower and his roller. We need our compasses and rulers. In order to make such pristine beauty, we must remove ourselves a step from the act of creation.
In so doing, we succeed in our undertaking. We had to measure, but our curves are regular. We had to use tools, but all of our lines are straight. Yet upon these lines we build for ourselves, we live out lives of a more uncertain aesthetic. When the players stand on the diamond, they mar the white lines. The perfect sphere is thrown in imperfect arcs or lines that dip and break. Runners dodge tags, shifting from the direct path of the baseline. Outfielders scatter irregularly across the green. Batters wobble after missed pitches. There’s a collision at the base.
Using our hands alone, we cannot form perfect spheres. Something there is in these fingers that doesn’t love a straight line. Without the tools, our art – our living – is inexact. It comes out lopsided and knobby. The art we create to tell the story of being human is messy: dark shadows contrasting with shining rays of light. Uneven lines and haphazard moments. It has eccentric turns and curious corners. And perhaps this is precisely what it means to be human, shaped in the image of God: we find beauty in the measured curves and clean lines, but our lives look more like the winding rivers and the angled branches. We are forever caught in this, endowed by our Creator with a tendency toward irregular angles.
We’ve heightened the irregularity, twisted and broken even the undulating landscapes of our lives. Prodigal sons all, we do not by nature paint ourselves lives of clean lines and perfect angles.
But imago Dei can be redeemed. The prodigal can make it back home. The broken branch can be bound up and restored to its angled existence. And in this redemption, we are offered the chance to see the throne room of heaven, with its lovely straight lines and rounded pillars.2 We glimpse the sixty cubit nave and the twenty cubit vestibule.3 We catch sight of the inner sanctuary, where once the ark of the covenant was set, now the dais upon which the King of Heaven’s throne is stationed. And we see perfection. And we see beauty.
We live a contradiction as we walk through our lives. We find ourselves reveling in the radiance of the forest cathedral, noting the way the light plays with the leaves, dappling the ground with shadow and light. And we feel at home, seeing our own irregularities in the uneven spacing of the trees around us. But at the same time we want to clear away that one bough that makes the tree look funny, and we build our ballparks and our skyscrapers – our cathedrals and our fence posts – with clean angles and straight lines, vaunted arches and measured curves, because we’ve glimpsed perfection. And for the redeemed imago Dei in this world, there may be no way out of this trouble. It is our state, and we must live in it.
Paint the straight lines upon the golden dust. Mow the stripes into the green. Stretch the arcs and measure the angles. Hold the red-stitched sphere and clear the plate. There is a beauty in these things. But upon the field, play the game as it is meant to be played, with its highs and lows, its shadows and glories. Set out as a prodigal but return home as a son. Throw the breaking ball or the knuckler. Be living art. For on the field, heaven and earth unite, and in this the Creator is glorified.
1 Mitchel, David. “On Baseball.” http://morningatthebrownbrink.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/on-baseball/. 01 April 2013.
2 Hebrews 8:1-2 indicate the Tabernacle and Temple, with their strict measurements and straight lines, were patterned after the throne room of heaven.
3 1 Kings 6:2-3
This piece was originally published in 2013.