Play. How does it to connect to following Jesus or to graduate school? Both are serious matters, right? We don’t want to mess up with either, so play should be the last thing on our minds. Or should it?
UC Christian Grads started their series of monthly table talks with a conversation on this topic. Not because I play well and have a lot of wisdom to share, but because I’m pretty bad at it. I’m often putting off seeing a movie, contacting friends, or just taking time to rest and read because work needs to be finished. It turns out that several people around the table also admitted to not often including play in their lives – or feeling guilty because of it.
Our jumping off point of discussion was David Naugle’s short essay on “A Serious Theology of Play” along with Marilyn Chandler McIntyre’s chapter on play in the book Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. Both writers explore how play is a natural part of life. We see it in God’s act of creation, in the actions of children, the practices of Sabbath and festivals, and even Jesus’ lifestyle.
Throughout the conversation we attempted to define what play is – does it have to be separate from work, does it need to include a purpose? Or, maybe play is play because there is no end goal? We also mentioned how play can be and is abused in society as it becomes a cathartic event following pressured work patterns. Anything is acceptable as long as that steam is let off. Of course, students mentioned how difficult it is to play in the world of the academy – though some did see part of their work as play. In the end, everyone affirmed that play and some type of rest is a vital part of life’s rhythm. Though, because it can be difficult to practice, several students affirmed that it’s necessity to plan time for play and rest.
Looking back on it, this conversation was its own form of play. Sitting around, enjoying a meal, and relishing community, it was an evening to rest after a week of work. It was also a place at which participants could trust one another and throw out ideas without the fear of needing to be right.
As we closed we shared what we were looking forward to this weekend and then read Psalm 98 together – providing yet more images of play within creation. Without formal prompting many in the group even planned a time of play for the following day – frisbee golf and walking in a local park.
Naugle ends his essay stating
“If God is a God of play, and if human play is, indeed, rooted in divine play, then we, as humans, ought to develop our abilities at play and cultivate a spirit of playfulness. This is both our gift and our responsibility in a often-serious world. Whatever forms of “play” you may pursue—whether it be music, reading, sports, furniture restoration, gardening, photography, or drag racing—do it heartily unto the Lord, as a reflection of a rarely recognized aspect of the divine nature. Your life will be an answer to H. L. Mencken’s stereotypical puritan who worries about people having fun, and your example will testify to the Friedrich Nietzsches of the world that, indeed, there is—and that you know—a God who dances.”
I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that UCCG danced that evening, recognizing and sharing in the life of a God who does the same – and it was a real joy.
Where and how do you play? Is it part of following Christ?