Spirituality of Play (by June Maffin)
In today’s intense world of terrorism, disasters, broken relationships, global warming, and other stressors, a spirituality of play may seem a curious matter. But, more than ever, a spirituality of play is an attitude that needs to be cultivated in our society and educational system so that children and youth can become adults who live balanced lives where laughter, joy and hope are an intrinsic part of their being.
From the Greek word selig (which means blessed) comes the English word silly. I like to think that there is something sacred about the ability to be silly – to play – to laugh and be child-like.
Many faith traditions – Christian and Hasidic storytellers, Zen masters, Taoist sages – encourage us not to take ourselves too seriously. These prophets have an important role in the spiritual life because they espouse the spiritual practice of play and as Ralph Waldo Emerson (quoted in Joy by Beverly Elaine Eanes) wrote “It is a happy talent to know how to play.” When Hindus speak of the creation of the universe, they don’t call it the work of God. They call it the play of God.
Playing is as sacred as music and silence and solemnity. In “Toward Holy Ground,” Margaret Guenther wrote “When we play, we also celebrate holy uselessness. Like the calf frolicking in the meadow, we need no pretense or excuses. Work is productive; play, in its disinterestedness and self-forgetting, can be fruitful.”
When we play – when we enjoy the fullness of life with its curiosities, frivolities and insensibilities – when we don’t take ourselves too seriously, some would say that we are praying. Like prayer, laughter and play can be healing to the body, mind and soul. Laughter and play are holy things. When we play, we leave behind the daily stressors and allow our spirit to breathe and re-create.
Literature, the Arts and holidays remind us of the importance of playing – of giving ourselves permission to be silly and foolish … artists from Russia in the 15th century often featured the yurodiva, a kind of “holy fool”, in their paintings. April Fool’s Day is a day for laughing, for playing kind and gentle jokes, and for trying to trick friends. On the last day of the nature festival “The Huli” in India, people have fun by sending friends on impossible errands, such as finding a stick with only one end. In Native American Traditions, Coyote is the Trickster.
In the Aztec tradition, Coyote is called “God’s dog.” In Hollywood, Wile E. Coyote always played tricks on the Roadrunner and they always backfired.
A spirituality of play helps us live with mystery, paradox and absurdity of life! So few people grasp that concept, sadly. It’s in the spirituality of play that helps us come to know ourselves, as Teillard de Chardin wrote – not as human beings having a spiritual experience but as “spiritual beings having a human experience.
Might now be the time to open / re-open the doors of flexibility, intuition, vulnerability, child-like innocence, and spontaneity? If the Creator created anteaters, duck-billed platypuses, giraffes, clownfish, pink flamingos and us (!), surely the Holy One has a great sense of humor and invites us to nurture a spirituality of play.
May you make time to play, laugh, and “be” in all of its wonder, simplicity, learning and joy each day of each week. And through that play, may others come to recognize that they are human be-ings, not human do-ings and that when they create, they are expressing their be-ingness, their spirituality.
Dr. June (Mack) Maffin was raised in Montreal and presently lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. Check out her recent book “Soulistry-Artistry of the Soul: Creative Ways to Nurture your Spirituality” or follow her at www.soulistry.com.