I’ve said before that the Y locker room is a great place for inspiration when it comes to subjects for these occasional short essays. Reflecting on locker room conversation in light of several recent articles on the spiritual but not religious got me to thinking about how grumpy old men at the Y express thing spiritual.
I am usually there in the early afternoon, arriving just as the younger lunchtime crowd is departing. It leaves the locker room to us retired types. Conversation ebbs and flows. It’s not a place for gabfests. Mostly it’s about hunting, fishing, sports, politics, the usual health issues of old men, and the like. Religion, or anything outwardly spiritual, is not often mentioned, but I’ve been thinking lately about how old men express spiritual matters in other ways.
The most obvious is conversation about funerals. There are enough of them. What kind of man was he? What was said about him? Who went to the service? Death is real, and funerals are the unavoidable proof of that. The silence that follows a few brief comments speaks volumes about questions of hope, mortality, the meaning of life, and God, but a locker room is not the right place to let the silence express itself in words. It’s too bad because I think the silence is begging to be broken.
Words used to express spiritual beliefs tend toward: courage, strength, integrity, humor, generosity, reliability, important accomplishments in life, etc. Even political talk has its spiritual dimension because it expresses fundamental beliefs about human nature and the meaning of community. Moral truth is defined by words such as good, bad, right, and wrong. There is little room for grey or nuance. The words used in all these short locker room conversations circle around the pond of spirituality but seldom dive in. They are words often encapsulated in manly harumphing, assertively stated as fact without fear of contradiction, but however declarative, they are bracketed by huge question marks.
These then are the old men of my afternoons several times a week. Most of them, even the church goers, don’t think church has much to do with the questions implied in their locker room conversations. Church is for their wives. Church is a lifelong social habit. Church is where they make notes in their bible because the pastor told them to. Church instructs them in answers to questions they have little interest in asking. I wonder what it would take to translate the spiritual talk of the locker room at the Y into church speak, or maybe the other way round.
Oh, who cares? They are just grumpy old men, and we need to be focussed on attracting the young. Forget’em. Unless, maybe, the old men taught the young men.