The Valley of Elah is the legendary spot between two mountains where, according to 1 Samuel, young David slew the mighty Philistine warrior Goliath. The site is an appropriate allusion for writer-director Paul Haggis’s movie about the American experience in Iraq. In the Valley of Elah posits that the U.S. may be the military Goliath brought down by hit-and-run insurgents.
Men and women in black, a few at first and then more, move quickly and silently across the parking lot, like a slow rain beginning to fall into the dark mouth of the sanctuary. A blue jay screams curses from the skirts of a pecan tree.
Then comes the small girl the neighbors call “the urchin,” who spends each day alone flitting around the neighborhood like a trapped moth. She is surrounded by three patchy dogs.
She marches barefoot and chants a little song about the summer morning, three stray dogs, and her very own self. She passes between the mourners, a blade of blue sky cutting through storm cloud.
When she gets home, her mother will still sit like a sea wall in front of the Trinity Broadcasting Network with a can of beer. The urchin will go into the kitchen for a glass of warm tap water. The man in the coffin will still be dead. The mourners
will still gather and be sad. Nothing will be any better. The jay will keep screaming its malediction on the deep down meanness of the world. But, look now, for a moment: the song, the girl, and three loping dogs.
Religion is often on display in professional athletics, with the exception of the National Hockey League. The few hockey players who are open about their faith buck a tradition of reticence or downright distrustfulness toward religion. Unlike professional football or basketball, many NHL players come from Canada or Europe, where the culture is much more secular and religious faith is closely guarded. There is also the suspicion in hockey that a person of faith might be too soft a player. Some hockey clubs make chapel services available, but far fewer than in professional basketball (Boston Globe, April 5).