During our SAPC retreat last month up at St. Dorothy’s Retreat in the Russian River we reflected on the topic — “The Spirituality of Play”. These words by Pedro Arrupe captured our attention: “What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”
An aspect of the Spirituality of Play is falling in love with that which we love. This is one way of playing … loving what we love, in such a way, that our hearts are released to become more expansive, and full, and free.
Anthony de Mello, the Jesuit who lived much of his life and ministry in India, wrote about the Hindi conception of ‘leela.’ Here is a parable he used:
“The Master once referred to the Hindu notion that all creation is “leela” — God’s play—and the universe is God’s playground. The aim of spirituality, is to make all life play. This seemed too frivolous for a puritanical visitor. “Is there no room then for work?” “Of course there is. But work becomes spiritual only when it is transformed into play.”
Our work becomes play, and our play becomes work, when they arise from the same source. Play, like God, is universal — accessible to everyone. As Christians, part of sharing our faith is helping others tap into the divine, whether they name it as God or not. So, what might this mean for you? How often do you play? Have you ever thought about playing with God — and that your prayer — might be one and the same?
St. Francis and his order of Jesters of the Christ. Coyote. Nasrudin. Zen masters. Taoist sages. Hasidic storytellers. Clowns and performance artists. All of these are prophets, if you will, inviting us to stop, to look, to listen, to be. They encourage us not to take ourselves too seriously.
Being playful with God allows us to move outside ourselves so we can be within ourselves more fully and completely.
For play is:
— the exuberant expression of our being.
— at the heart of our creativity and our sexuality.
— that which expresses our most care free moments of devotion.
— that which frees our joy and wonder. And, wonder is the realm of the Spirit.
— that which keeps our search for meaning down to earth… for play is relational/incarnational.
— allows us to ‘lose ourselves in God’ or as one of our hymns puts it: to be lost in wonder, love and grace.
Play helps us live with absurdity, paradox, and mystery. And mystery is the very nature of the Divine. This is why I often refer to “The Holy” as “The Mystery we call God”, for God is mystery … beyond any word or thought or expression we may conceive or utter.
I believe that play is a critical practice in these days of such political unrest in our country and world. In fact, the Spirituality of Play — falling in love with that which we love — might be a way to help bring some gentleness back in our living with one another on this, our planet home.
Remember when Jesus put a child in the circle of his teaching those disciples long ago? Well, he continues to remind us of this truth today … unless we become like a child, we will never enter the dominion of God. If we look for playfulness in the young, we will find it. If we join them, we will find it in ourselves.
May this be true for each of us.
In play with you,
Jeffrey Steven Gaines