Pastor column: Play on dearly beloved people of God
Play is one of the least celebrated faith practices, and yet, one of the most important!
The dear women of my congregation reminded me of this recently on our women's retreat. We found ourselves at a retreat center that had a human foosball court. (Imagine the tabletop players who usually spin on metal rods transformed into adults clutching PVC pipes threaded on ropes allowing players to move horizontally as a unit.)
I insisted that we gather for a picture, thinking that it would be a fun and unique group picture! Never did I dream that these women (spanning four generations) would quickly move from the photo op to actually playing the game! Laughter abounded as a fierce, yet friendly, game ensued!
I left thankful for these women, who by the power of God's Spirit, had reminded me once again to let loose and embrace the surprises that await when we dare to attune our heads and hearts to God's creative presence in the world!
As we read in Scripture, God's first impulse was one of creative presence, or play! God shaped creation and all creatures of the earth from the unknown. What a powerful example of play!
We may think of play as something only fun and frivolous, a practice reserved for children. But in reality, play is important and transformative for all people. As Presbyterian pastor and professor of pastoral care Michael Koppel writes in his book "Open-Hearted Ministry," play actually puts us in touch with our environment, other people and ourselves. Play nurtures connection with one another and with God's creative presence in and around us!
Play also helps us discern and embrace what God is doing in and around us in each moment! For God isn't done with us yet! As Koppel explains, play helps us become "more attuned to what needs to happen when, instead of forcing things or placing our agenda on them." Play helps us stretch out of our comfort zones and reach beyond the familiar into the unknown to discover the new things God is doing!
Play can take many forms. Dig in the dirt without a reason. Dance or skip across the street. Make a silly face. Grab some crayons and scribble. Sing along with the radio. Try a new game. Read a book unlike any you've read before. Go for a walk or a drive without a fixed destination.
Play isn't about getting it "right" or achieving some pre-determined end. It's just the opposite. It's about embracing what is and leaning into possibilities.
As a faith practice, it's about seeking and enjoying God's creative presence in the moment, and cultivating openness to God's continuing work of creation and re-creation.
So play on dearly beloved people of God! Play on!