Finding inspiration through professional wrestling

Published 1:33 pm Thursday, April 27, 2023

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Several folks were surprised to learn that I’m a fan of professional wrestling. I’ll do you one better than just telling you I love wrestling. I can show you. In my 38 years, I’ve been on cable television only once. It was a live show of WCW Nitro filmed at the Dean Dome in Chapel Hill. My teenage face ended up filling the whole screen as I threw myself in front of the camera, screaming in delight. Friends, I’m a bonafide superstar. (You’ve got to know that’s sarcasm, right?)

A refrain I often hear when I tell someone I love wrestling goes something like this: “You know it’s fake, right?” Unless you’re younger than 12, every fan of the art form knows the matches are predetermined. That’s why I call wrestling just another form of theater, albeit with some real physical carnage involved. The trick to enjoying wrestling is not to think too much about how the match finish is predetermined. To enjoy it, you give yourself over to the story, to the universally human experiences of succeeding and failing, of having to fight back from nearly being defeated, of overcoming all the odds to come out on top a victor, a champ, a true bonafide superstar.

These kinds of stories appeal to everyone because we all have known struggle ourselves. We all have had to climb out of suffering, or despair. We all have been at the bottom, and we all have been on the top. If you want to catch a glimpse of the universality of these stories, just look at the audience of any wrestling match. It is as diverse as anything. All ages, genders, and ethnicities. The poor and the rich as well. Honestly, the average match looks like what I wish every church service looked like: a genuine melting pot of all types of life experiences.

Returning to the idea of struggle, stories like these can be strange but effective sources of inspiration when we ourselves are struggling. Human storytelling has always been a way we have made sense of ourselves, to better understand what it means to be human. We take inspiration from them, and we use the emotion they stir within to fuel our own growth and transformation. Whether it’s high-flying wrestlers or even the saints of old, storytelling in all its forms is a fundamentally necessary aspect of being human.

What stories have given you hope, or fueled your personal growth? Where do you take inspiration when you’re feeling broken down? Inspiration comes from the strangest of places, but in my own theology, Jesus “plays in a thousand places.” If Jesus could use the story of a man being swallowed up by a whale to teach his disciples, why would we not believe that Jesus could use the stories of wrestlers overcoming all the odds to somehow teach and inspire us today? We put limits on God’s creativity to our peril.

Chris Adams is the Rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Washington.