(Random thoughts for Sunday's Contemplative Service)
I still remember the first time I was shamed about play.
In middle school it was common for us to call our friends and see if they wanted to play. We'd get together and play board games, video games, and play with our computers together. When I went to High School I remember phoning a friend and asking him if he wanted to play.
"Play?", he responded. "How childish!"
We got together anyway and we played board games, video games and played with our computers together. The activity was the same as before but I quickly learned that the word 'play' always had to be quantified. We could 'play video games', but we couldn't just play.
As I grew older play was somehow viewed as a waste of time, time that could have been spent doing something more productive. Somehow this attitude all got wrapped up in Protestant Christianity - the idea that you display your salvation through hard work, frugality, diligence and seriousness.
I remember when I started work at Mercy Street, I was in a meeting and was told that as a member of staff I was expected to 'Work hard and play hard'. At first I reveled in the freedom to be allowed to play, but implied in that statement is that play is something we are driven to do, that we approach play with the same seriousness that we approach work. We have a task to do and we are going to get through it with due haste.
In the late 1800's an English Anthropologist made the suggestion that games and play might prove very useful to his work studying indigenous tribes because people are truly themselves when they play games. Most children do not need permission to play. Many adults still feel it is wasteful. I even have a book called 'The Christian at Play'.....it's as if we are so averse to play in the church that we can only do it if we have theological justification.
God has wired us for play. We are to keep Sabbath for our re-creation and rest. Play connects us to each other, it's an antidote to loneliness and depression. It stimulates creativity. Play helps us work better.
Play is not a waste of time because play itself is productive. It nurtures and heals. It helps us step more fully into who God has created us to be.