True confession. It is Lent, after all, a time to confess our weaknesses and sins before God. I like the Rocky movies. You might be with me on the first one. It is, after all the best. But I haven’t met many people who can hang with the series all the way through. No shame. It’s not for everyone.
The reason I enjoy the Rocky movies is that in each movie the fight in the ring represents a fight inside the man, beginning with an internal fight over his self worth and including among others his struggle with his own complacency, death of a friend, and even his legacy as a fighter. And sometimes he doesn’t have to win the fight in the ring to win the fight inside. Yo, Adrian...it’s deeper than you thought.
One thing I like most about the Rocky movies is the iconic music. I know I’m not the only one who has run up a flight of steps with Bill Conti’s “Gonna Fly Now” running through my head. I promise you know the song, even if you don’t think you do. And of course there’s “Eye of the Tiger.” Classic.
One of my favorites, though, is “Burning Heart.” It’s in Rocky IV, the one where he fights the huge guy from the Soviet Union. You’ll find these lyrics about half way through the song:
In the warrior’s code there’s no surrender. Though his body cries stop, his spirit cries—never! Deep in our soul, a quiet ember knows it’s you against you. It’s the paradox the drives us on. It’s a battle of wills. In the heat of attack, it’s the passion that kills. That victory is yours alone.
Those lyrics are at once encouraging and challenging to me. They are encouraging because they profess a truth: that our spirit (or perhaps our Spirit) ultimately has dominion over our body. There’s something of a mystery there: that through sheer force of will we can push ourselves to the impossible. They are challenging for the very same reason.
Rudyard Kipling was speaking to the same point when he wrote in “If:”
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them, “Hold on!”
The internal battle between will and flesh is not new. In a garden outside Jerusalem, Jesus took those closest to him into the garden of Gethsemane. He left them with one task: stay awake with me. They had one job to do! And yet when he returned to them, they were asleep.
He wasn’t just talking about their slumber. After his betrayal, the disciples would indeed face a time of trial, a time in which their bodies would no doubt cry to them “No more!” But the Pentecost Spirit within would empower them, forcing their hearts and nerves and sinews to serve their turn, pushing them through fear and doubt into an infant ministry that would leave an indelible mark on our world.
That Spirit that was in them, the one that drove them, it is also inside of us. Like Rocky, we can gain mastery of our heart and nerve and sinew. And though, like Jesus in the garden, we may wish for a particular cup to pass from us, we have confidence that we can drink from it. We have confidence that in that moment when all feels lost, in that moment when our body screams “STOP!” the Spirit will answer...never. And we will survive. We will press on. Faltering, perhaps, yet unbeaten.