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Always Relearning How to Play

What is play for me today, if defined as fun, spontaneous activity without any outcome or goal?

I’ve long been on a crusade against what Fred Craddock called a messianic seriousness that can come with ministry-church types. I don’t intend rancor here. Ministry folks are often up-close with liminal times and spaces due to death, funerals, loss, sickness. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the miseries and challenges of being human when you are immersed in the pain and suffering of others. Hence, messianic seriousness. A characteristic whose supposition is that care-giving requires you to join into the suffering, see only the suffering of others. As if we even can…

In the context of a grant proposal called the Sabbath Renewal Project, well over twenty years ago now, I crafted an essay on the power of play. The need to practice it regularly, so to remember the abundance, delight, mystery and humor of life. Ministers who know how to play are more faithful, I argued, because they can let go of being responsible or presuming their presence is more than Presence. Play de-centers the self, at least a bit.

Yet play is not a practice that comes easily for me, then or now. Perhaps I was preaching to myself in my writing. Relying on ‘creative renewal containers’ like Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, I usually have to return myself to a playful intention, a curiosity to explore and find new ways to play. Brian can get frustrated here, with a not inaccurate assessment that my hobby is having hobbies. I love the explorations, the experimentations, but seem to need to keep exploring and experimenting to keep the quality of play about any of it.

You see, we Hesses can turn just about anything into a functional activity, with a purpose and goal beyond the present. The joke was that my uncle could turn “having friends over” into a Bed&Breakfast business, with good tax benefits. My father’s woodworking habits shone most when there was some functional quality to his artful style. A nicely stained wood-pattern triangular shelf so the coffee mug could rest there while watching TV. Space-saving devices, with magnets or aesthetically-pleasing plastic, shaped just so. The function takes away a bit of the playfulness, at least as defined above.

My version? I explored making rosaries by hand. An artistic product, which then could be given to friends and family, allowing me to feel connected in generosity-prayer offered and received. SoulCollage? Became a trainer. Writing circle? Became a facilitator with a social-purpose business.

End result is that I struggle to follow my own advice. I struggle to play…to create or imagine, disconnected from any purpose or relational function (in the end). I suppose I play in the kitchen, when I’m tampering with recipes so to make them low carb, no-sugar, edibles for myself. I love how I feel, taking care of myself that way, giving myself options to eat when I’m hungry. But that’s not really play

Is reading youth-fiction play? Or jigsaw puzzles? Coloring? CrossFit?

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