As the president of N.Y.U., Dr. Sexton could certainly teach any course he wanted. And as the former dean of its law school and clerk to a chief justice of the United States, he might have been expected to hold forth on jurisprudence. However, as a child of Brooklyn, as a scholar whose academic robe bears the number 42 in homage to Jackie Robinson, and as a practicing Catholic with a doctoral degree in religion, Dr. Sexton has for more than a dozen years chosen baseball and God as his professorial focus.Hey, this reminds me of what my father used to say when I asked him why he didn't go to church. When we kids were little, the parents took us to church — we went here — but later they opted out. My father, who liked to play golf, said "God is every bit as much on the golf course as He is in church." I'm putting a capital "H" on "He," but it's not like he said it with a capital "H." That answer annoyed me, by the way. I was a teenager.
“The real idea of the course,” he put it in an interview, “is to develop heightened sensitivity and a noticing capacity. So baseball’s not ‘the’ road to God. For most of us, it isn’t ‘a’ road to God. But it’s a way to notice, to cause us to live more slowly and to watch more keenly and thereby to discover the specialness of our life and our being, and, for some of us, something more than our being.”...
The core of his original reading list — “The Sacred and the Profane,” by the religion historian Mircea Eliade — remains central to the class all these years later. Eliade’s essential insight, at least for Dr. Sexton’s purposes, is his concept of hierophany, meaning the manifestation of the sacred in the world. So, just as much as Stonehenge or the Kaaba or the Western Wall or St. Peter’s Basilica, baseball in Sextonian teaching affords such a locus for faith.
I was a nonbeliever in the proposition that guys on the golf course were thinking about God. Maybe if he'd claimed God was there with him when he went for a walk in the woods, I'd have accepted it. But my father never went for a walk in the woods.
By the way, a sexton is "An officer responsible for a church and its property, and for tasks relating to its maintenance or management" or "A warden, a custodian; a guardian or keeper of something..." The etymology goes back to words like "sacristan" and is influenced by the "secretarius" line of thinking which leads to "secretary." It's not connected to "sex," "the state of being male or female," which goes back to the Middle French word "sexe," meaning genitals —I'm getting this from the Oxford English Dictionary, which, sadly, I can't link to — even though one might think of genitals as sacred and secret.
"Hierophany" — which the linked article calls Sexton's "concept of... the manifestation of the sacred in the world" — is a word that is not in the Oxford English Dictionary. The closest thing is hierophancy, "The function of a hierophant; capacity of expounding sacred mysteries." A hierophant — familiar to anyone who's fooled with Tarot cards — is "An official expounder of sacred mysteries or religious ceremonies...." The etymology goes back to a root that means "bring to light, make known, reveal."
The sexton and the hierophant... picture them. One keeps things and the other brings them out into the light. Sexton's intellectual pursuit seems to be a manifestation of that old notion that an individual takes on a profession suggested by his name — many dentists are named Dennis, that sort of thing. If you were a sexton, would you not long to be a hierophant? If you were a groundskeeper, would you not long to be the Commissioner of Baseball? And if you were a lawprof, wouldn't you want to be President of NYU?