I ran across a news article the other day that suggested people learn certain things more quickly and retain them longer if they learn them through a process of play, rather than sheer rote memorization. That reminded me of some of the artistic and playful things a favorite teacher tried to do in language class, where we learned to draw, sing, dance, and eat new vocabulary words. I think it worked, and it certainly inspired us to come to class.
The spiritual life is, or ought to be, play. It’s powerful play, it’s important play, and it should draw on every sense of the word play to bring us fully alive before God, with our senses, our emotions, our passions, our past, our gifts, our questions, our grief, our wonder.
On one level, worship is a play, it’s a drama where we act out salvation history, from the creation that begins with the music of the prelude as the word arising from chaos, to the giving of the word of grace which was made flesh, which we enflesh as we pass the peace. We sing and pray with big symbols, we sit in a room that is itself a symbol, part ark, part spaceship hurtling us into the future God has dreamed up for us. We send a young person down the aisle with the sacred fire, we have the light of God streaming through colorful windows to remind us of the beautiful diversity of life God has given to us and asks us to be good stewards of. This is big stuff, great stuff, though we might sometimes fall into the habit of having seen it so much we don’t see it at all.
Our spiritual life is play in another sense, play in the meaning parallel to playing musical instruments. In that sense of the word play, there is some hard work that goes into mastering the instrument. There is the not very exciting practice of scales and learning the symbolic system of music notation. And if you really want to be good, there is some math and science involved in the music theory behind it all. But if you stay with it long enough, you can begin to find a deep level of joy in playing music and at that point it becomes play in the other sense, a way of experiencing delight, expressing the spirit, having fun.
Our spiritual lives require some practice to find fluency in the sacred language. We study the Bible, we sit in contemplation, we try different ways to pray and put together a routine of life with the practices that help us make some spiritual music. The result of our practice can be the deep joy of communing with the Spirit, of feeling fully alive in God.
So, let’s play! Dig out your softball glove and loosen up your arm, or dust off the guitar or recorder in your closet. Pull out a book of poems or a record album with songs that make you laugh and dance. Let’s respond to God’s playful creation in a joyful pageant of gratitude.