Zen Pastor Mariano Rivera and his vague, comforting karma

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Lat’s state the obvious: It’s getting harder and harder for news consumers to figure out when they are reading straight news coverage and when they are reading columns, editorials and analysis pieces.

Thus, it is common for veteran GetReligion readers to send me links to articles and, after clicking the URLs, I discover that many of the “news stories” that so angered them are not actually news stories at all. Instead, they are columns or a clearly labeled “analysis” piece in which it is perfectly understandable that the writer expressed his or her opinion or elected to slant the story in one way or another.

Take, for example, that recent piece in The New York Times — “Mariano Rivera: A Zen Master With a Mean Cutter” — about the retirement of superstar closer Mariano Rivera.

When I first looked at the text, just as an email, I was rather upset about its rather prominent religion ghost. Or, more accurately, I was upset that the piece contained tons of religious content, but not religious content that had anything to do with the real Rivera.

Let me give readers a taste of that, starting, logically enough, right up top:

In a game in which perfection is elusive, he was reliably sublime.

In the high-stress vocation of ninth-inning pitching dominated by theatrical personalities, he was the embodiment of Zen calm — a cool Jedi master among the hotheads, and an almost extraplanetary source of composure and grace in the gritty, often chaotic world of Major League Baseball. …

Mariano Rivera understood what Steve Jobs, Lao Tzu and Bruce Lee understood: that simplicity is an art and a strength, a source of joy and beauty and power.

The whole point of the article is to try to describe the source of Rivera’s remarkable maturity, his calmness, his class, his wisdom and the grace with which he related to others. Clearly, this has something to do with religion.

The article makes this clear — kind of. In terms of pure sports, the art of of his legendary cut fastball is at the heart of it story. But so is, well, this man’s soul.

As Yankees Manager Joe Girardi has pointed out, baseball is what the deeply religious Rivera does, it’s not who he is. But who Rivera is — a consummate professional, stoic, focused, dedicated and at peace with himself — has indelibly imprinted the way he has gone about the job: his unparalleled consistency and longevity, his grace under pressure, and his ability to come back from adversity, be it a blown save or his potentially devastating ligament tear in 2012.

So he radiates “Zen calm” and is “deeply religious.” There’s more:

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