©2010, Randall A. Beeler
A cloud was on the mind of men, and wailing went the weather,
Yea, a sick cloud upon the soul when we were boys together …
Life was a fly that faded, and death a drone that stung;
The world was very old indeed when you and I were young.
They twisted even decent sin to shapes not to be named:
Men were ashamed of honour; but we were not ashamed.
Weak if we were and foolish, not thus we failed, not thus;
When that black Baal blocked the heavens he had no hymns from us …
Not all unhelped we held the fort, our tiny flags unfurled;
Some giants laboured in that cloud to lift it from the world …
But we were young; we lived to see God break their bitter charms.
God and the good Republic come riding back in arms:
We have seen the City of Mansoul, even as it rocked, relieved—
Blessed are they who did not see, but being blind, believed.
(G. K. Chesterton, Poem Prologue to The Man Who Was Thursday)
23 This is the Lord's doing, and it is wonderful in our eyes. (Ps 118, DRE)
Once upon a time, our land was beset by enemies and doubt. Our hearts beat slow in the frozen dead of Winter, Lent and ashes approaching, hostages in Iran, Soviet tanks poised on the borders of rising Poland. Our blood thickened like treacle in our veins and faint was our hope.
I was 16 and growing up in a Southwestern Pennsylvania where, though the Steelers and Pirates had won championships, the steel industry was rusting into dissolution. I lived in the mountains around Pittsburgh, where the snow heaped up as high, if not higher than it has this Winter of our discontent.
No birds sang. All I could hear was snow muffle-falling from the branches into a drift. Occasional trees were adorned with yellow ribbons. Though high-schoolers, we, too, felt hostage. The Cold War was a fact that we had been born into; it would never end. Though we always prayed for the conversion of the Soviet Union, we knew it would never happen. Poland would be overrun like Hungary in '56 and Czechoslovakia in '68.
Besides, the news reports of the major networks (and the newly hatching CNN) made it all seem as if our Cold-War enemies merely offered a different way of governance. Who were we to say the American way was better, especially with mushrooming interest rates, a spiraling recession, and the unmitigated humiliation of our nation in revolutionary Iran? The success of our enemies' iron rule of tyranny put to the lie the dignity of the human person and the elusive notion of freedom—which, after all, was probably just hedonistic license.
How could we shine a light into the long night of the Soviet gulags when we ourselves were reeling in what must be the Twilight of the West?
We too often forget that twilight can often be darkest … before the dawn.
The Soviet hockey machine was every bit as well oiled and slave-driven as the tanks that amassed at the borders of Poland. Its success testified to the ultimate triumph of man as machine. The red CCCP-emblazoned Soviet-team uniforms glided through warm-ups like the grand parade of lifeless packaging.
I do not romanticize this—or, if I do, then the time itself was destined to be romantic, for no one could predict what was to happen next … or what it was a harbinger of.
The documentaries, magazine covers, and movie made of the "The Miracle on Ice" fall far, far short of what actually happened. They cannot exaggerate, for even those of us who actually witnessed all the events of 1980 had not the depth of vision to see God's footprints in the history of the time: "the eye has not seen, O God, besides you, what things you have prepared for them that wait for you" (Isa 64:4, DRE).
The image at the beginning of this post approximates what we experienced back then: newness of life, amazement, discovering Our Lord in the guise of the Gardener digging out during the Spring thaw. To those of you who did not live through the 1980 USA Hockey Team's Olympic victory over the Soviet machine and later capture of the Gold Medal, the picture looks Photoshopped.
But it is real. It happened. And it is still happening.
This article is not about America and the jingoistic cries of "USA! USA!" Something deeper was stirring under the snow of Western Pennsylvania, Poland, and Siberia, of which the United States' hockey victory was a mere hand-shaped cloud in the sky before the drenching Spring thaw and storm.
Another picture comes from the same time period, one of Pope Saint John Paul II, reaching out a hand and a hug to Lech Walesa. Solidarity. Buried under the Soviet gulags, shrouded under the U. S. hostages' hoods, steadfast under the rusting of abandoned steel mills is the dignity of the human person—the imago dei, the image of God.
For while we shivered in the Cold War and fought Olympic games akin to war, a spiritual battle was waged along the iron curtain that guards—not imprisons—the human heart. The United States' 1980 Olympic hockey triumph did not trigger the events that later saw the hammering down of the Berlin Wall and the conversion (yes, it really did happen, just like we prayed it would).
Rather, it was a signal, a sign.
For, even as we played hockey, brave souls in Poland prayed and amassed to demonstrate the rotten core of the communist systematization of the soul of man. And our Papa John Paul joined arms—arms of flesh and blood—with his countrymen. And souls, as Solzhenitsyn recounts, prayed in the withering blast of the Gulag tundra. And God heard their prayers.
They prayed for us. We prayed for them, though we hardly knew it.
The blasting of the Cold War and the freezing of our heart's blood in the 1980 recession and the Babylonian captivity of our hostages in Iran were not the vanguard of Magog but the last gasps of a retreating rebellion against all that is good.
The vanguard of Magog is always a last-gasp proposition. Even as the "principalities and powers … the rulers of the world of this darkness … the spirits of wickedness in the high places" (Eph 6:12, DRE) today, 30 years later, hammer our window panes with frost and drifts, we must remember that we are in the midst of an adventure.
The devil's winter will hiss above his hissing as he is thrown in the Lake of Fire. Keep praying. Keep skating. Keep shooting. Keep joining arms in the face of nuclear arms in Iran; wrap the cold hearts of the abortion industry with prayers of hope, life, and a glimpse of the God in the Gardener.
The 1980 Miracle on Ice is miraculous because it happens again and again. Like the dawn, it breaks upon us, at God's command, if only for His sheer joy at seeing it dawn upon us again and again that we are loved, we are prized, we are His!
Lent is like a long "retreat" during which we can turn back into ourselves and listen to the voice of God, in order to defeat the temptations of the Evil One. It is a period of spiritual "combat" which we must experience alongside Jesus, not with pride and presumption, but using the arms of faith: prayer, listening to the word of God and penance. In this way we will be able to celebrate Easter in truth, ready to renew the promises of our Baptism (Pope Benedict XVI, February 22, 2010 Angelus Address)