The Spirituality of Play

Here comes summer.  “It will be summer eventually,” opined Emily Dickinson in one of her poems moving the reader carefully though a “pallid landscape” suddenly brightened into a bouquet of lilacs and red roses, calling summer a “miracle” and a “sacrament.”

And what child would not think of summer as a miracle?  I also think it’s a miracle.  This summer promises to be more open, more exciting than last summer.  We are already told of increased crowd sizes for professional baseball attendance, outdoor dining safely distanced, family gatherings of fully-vaccinated individuals, public swimming pools opened for kids and adults who love splashing the aquamarine water in the brilliant sunlight of a hot day.  When I was young, swimming in a pool was considered a privilege; my siblings and I contented ourselves in nearby Tinkers Creek where it was deep enough to swim, though not far, and include our dog, Shep, in the melee. 

So what will you do for play this summer?  Play is integral to human development argue most psychologists.  It aids in cognitive development, no matter what stage of life you may be in and, of course, it provides extraordinary physical and health benefits.  It is the one activity you can do using your skills without a concern for monetary profit.  The famous psychologist Jean Piaget said it best, “Play is freely chosen, personally directed, intrinsically motivated

behavior.”  It can be structured or unstructured.  And, it enhances the brain.  You got that right: it enhances the brain.  We come into this world with a cerebrum (outer area of the brain) overstocked with super-active cells.  Play in our young childhood all the way into adulthood helps clear that excess into maturity.  This is why babies, puppies, kittens, the young of all mammals love wrestling, running, tugging, exploring, frolicking as if the world is one big ball to catch and hold and cherish. 

I think that the Biblical scene where Jesus invites the children to come to him is quite a picture of his sensitivity to the playfulness of children and the fact that his disciples could use a dose of that playfulness.  The parents are bringing the children to him and—picture this—the disciples are acting like ushers at a rock concert: “Get back.  Move away.  Can’t you see, he’s gotta move on.”  They are frowning and agitated as they push the crowd away probably scaring the children who are being pulled and jostled by the crowd and their parents.  Some might even be crying.  But Jesus intercedes.  He rebukes the disciples says the Bible, but I think he is angry and about to do more than ‘rebuke’ these followers.  He is mad.  I’m thinking fiercely mad.  He turns a glaring eye to the men, “Let the children come me to me; do not try to stop them; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Mt.19: 13-14)  To the innocent.  To the curious.  To the playful.

Reflection

We are never too old, too proper, too intellectual, too holy to play.  Why not make a resolution to enjoy some frivolity this summer?  Take your shoes off and walk in the grass.  Swing from a tree.  Join a game of baseball, wade in a pool.  Do all within your limitations, of course, but stretch yourself a bit.  One of the characteristics of play is that there is often an inherently joyful risk, a sense of fun in doing what you normally do not do.  Be a child again.  Why not try it?  And praise God for the abilities you do have to enjoy the wild and wonderful life on a summer’s day that you simply hope will never end.  

Ask yourself each evening before you take to your bed, Have I enjoyed your creation enough today, loving God?  Have I praised you by simply enjoying everything and playing?

“Oh sacrament of summer days,

Oh last communion in the haze,

Permit a child to join,

Thy sacred emblems to partake,

Thy consecrated bread to break,

Taste thine immortal wine.”     

Emily Dickinson

2 thoughts on “The Spirituality of Play

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  1. Thank you, Mary Ann. Reading this was pure joy! There are those who feel this sense of play is a sign of immaturity when in reality the ability to laugh, play and enjoy God’s creation and others is a sign of great balance, maturity and insight. May you have a summer of joy and adventure.

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  2. I love this! Thank you for reminding us to play! Next time I visit Ohio, I hope we can share some time to enjoy together. Not sure when that will be, but will let you know. take care, Margaret

    Like

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