You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. – Isaiah 55:12 NIV
Sometimes life gets too serious, doesn’t it? It has especially become so this past ten months for me since I’ve had so many health issues with various cancers in various places. It is exhausting to keep up with all of it. See doctors, eat something (anything), sleep or try to sleep. Not much fun going on which brings me to the point of this writing – PLAY.
On my Facebook page memories, I ran across an old FRIDAY MEDITATION I had written two or three years ago with the title “Play Dates”. Why did this show up today? Maybe because Play is one of my spiritual disciplines. It is good for my spiritual wellbeing. When did I forget to play? I don’t remember to tell the truth.
Oxford Dictionaries defines play as “to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose, take part in (a sport).” In this case play is a verb. It is something we do. Play is supposed to be fun. Often it is creative.
Wikipedia defines fun as “the enjoyment of pleasure, particularly in leisure activities. Fun is an experience — often unexpected, informal, and/or purposeless. It is an enjoyable distraction, diverting the mind and body from any serious task or contributing an extra dimension to it. … It may often have little to no logical basis, and opinions on whether an activity is fun may differ. A distinction between enjoyment and fun is difficult but possible to articulate, fun being a more spontaneous, playful, or active event. There are psychological and physiological implications to the experience of fun.” Fun, in this case is a noun – something you have.
What makes play a spiritual activity? For one, Play is creative, usually. It releases stress from the body and it makes us more into the image of God. Madeleine L’Engle writes, “I believe that God had fun in the act of Creation – hydrogen clouds and galaxies and solar systems and planets capable of sustaining life, and fish and birds and beasts and us human creatures. And then God rested.” Also, necessary for our souls and bodies. Can you not imagine God creating? When he decided light was needed, he spoke it into being, and it was. I also imagine that he flung the sun and moon into the heavens. Also, the galaxies and stars. When he sees them, he laughs and claps his hands in joy as he shouts out “Good!” I imagine that it was fun for him to create the animals, deciding how they would look, making male and female so that they could create more like themselves. And then humans. How he laughs as he proclaims, “Very Good! I love them.” Can’t you imagine the Trinity doing a Jewish type circle dance in delight at the end of the day?
Dr. Stuart Brown – psychiatrist, clinical researcher, and founder of the National Institute for Play explains that play is as essential to our health and functioning as rest….and argues that play is not an option. In fact, he writes, “The opposite of play is not work – the opposite of play is depression.”
So why aren’t we playing? Why am I not? I have gotten so bogged down in my own health issues that I almost forgot how to play. I made a list of play activities that I did as a child and it was pretty long. I can vividly picture many of them because they were so important to me.
I was born at the beginning of America’s involvement in WWII and we lived on a small farm with my grandmother for a few years. We had a few toys, but what I remember was playing by myself, much of the time, under the old cottonwood trees in the dirt making mud pies. I also made roads in the dust and used small rocks for cars and sticks for houses. I took walks with my dog and dangled my feet in a small stream and made little boats out of leaves and ran them down the water furrows in the garden. I never felt alone. There was always a presence with me. I know now that it was God.
After I started school, a friend and I would play school. Sometimes, I was the teacher and at others the student. I would make up plays at school and our teacher would let me direct them with the other students being the cast. The plays were mostly spontaneous, and we would practice during rainy recess times when we couldn’t go outside.
Once, I made a little hut behind my father’s recliner using a blanket for a roof. In it I acted out a story from a book that my grandmother had given me. It was about a young girl named Ann who lived in Bethany. Ann was at the well when Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were on their flight to Egypt and stopped for a drink and rest. Ann got to hold Jesus as Mary refreshed herself. I would be Ann in my play and would hold my doll who was Jesus. I could go on. I imagine you could too if you sit down and let your mind wander back.
Growing flowers was play for me as I got older. I don’t have much space for that now, but I do have some and hope I have the energy to get out and dig around a bit this spring and summer. I feel very close to God in the garden. I love taking photos. My favorite was wandering around, often in my bathrobe in the morning with bare feet in the wet grass, to look and see what was growing there so I could snap a picture of it.
One of my favorite play experiences took place three or four years ago. I was in the bedroom making the bed. A little squirrel was sitting on the outside window ledge looking at me. The glass was in between us, but I went over and started talking to it. While I was talking the squirrel just watched me. When I quit talking, her little mouth would move as if she were talking to me. She was you know. When she stopped talking, I would talk and so on. This went one for several minutes and was one of the most delightful experiences I have had. It brings me joy just recalling it.
There are many other stories here that I could tell as well, both spontaneous activities and those that were planned. I need to remember to play. I need to remember to recognize it. I know this is good for my spirit and gives me joy. Maybe what I need to do is get a little book to write down my play experiences. It could be part of my examine prayer in the evening. Maybe it would remind me to play.
When was the last time you really played? It’s good for our souls to do so. I even have my own recliner.